ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos are in a dark place they haven’t been since the Tim Tebow Era: multiple games below .500.
At 3-5, the entire area known as “Broncos Country” is in disbelief, seemingly ready to take to the streets at any moment to show their utter disgust for the recent performances from the organization that brought the city their last championship less than two years ago.
But before they do, Broncos Country should know they’re not alone.
“We got to fix things. We were embarrassed on national television. They changed the game. They took us off air,” starting outside linebacker Shane Ray said, trading his daily ear-to-ear grin in for a harsh tone. “That’s embarrassing to lose like that. Don’t think any of us are taking it lightly. We are all just as pissed as the fan base and everyone else. We are mad. We are trying to figure it out.”
When head coach Vance Joseph and his coaching staff are tucked away in the back halls and offices at the UCHealth Training Center trying trying to draw up a winning formula for the team, the players have started taking matters into their own hands.
Over the last few weeks, amidst the team’s four-game losing streak, players have added an additional meeting to their full Thursday and Friday schedules. The difference with this meeting, is only players are allowed.
“We look at the film. We look at our play call sheets. We call out plays. Basically try to have the communication on point,” Ray explained with a bit of optimism that the player meetings may start leading to wins. “We are all in the room together. It’s not like we are separated—like ‘maybe the linebackers should have made this, maybe the safeties should have made this’—we are all right here to talk about it. That’s been the big emphasis these last couple weeks because we need to communicate. We all need to be on the same page. Whatever the call is, we all need to run it. We all need to execute it. That’s really where it’s been at.”
In order to fix the communication on the field, the communication between the players in the meetings is as raw as the footwork of Paxton Lynch.
“It’s a very blunt meeting,” Ray said, well, bluntly. “If I miss an assignment, I’m getting called out on my assignment in front of my whole team, my defense. If I was supposed to do this and I cost us a big play, that’s seen. It keeps the truth. It keeps the realness because what happens is when you start losing and thing start looking bad, you get guys that start pointing fingers at everybody, or this guy could have done this or this guy could have did this.”
Instead of getting caught up in middle school antics of he said, (s)he said and finger-pointing, the players are seeing their mistakes, and accomplishments, together, not to tear each other down, but to get better as one unit. But it doesn’t mean they aren’t difficult meetings.
“If you are in the room with everybody, you can’t just disguise yourself, no. You were supposed to do this, we were supposed to do this. Now everybody knows this is the communication. It’s not no single thing anymore,” Ray said with his emphasis giving a glimpse at the intensity of the biweekly meetings. “That’s what makes the difference, we are just being real, we are being pros and we are putting it in your face because the way the record is we can’t sugar coat stuff, things have to change to be fixed now.”
Over the past six weeks, when the team has dropped five of their six games, the Broncos have been in an unfamiliar situation where nothing has seemed to go right week in and week out. Because of that, players have tried to take matters into their own hands, by doing too much, which in turn backfires.
“Shit happens and it’s a frustrating thing because we are losing,” Ray said exasperated. “Guys are trying to do this—‘Maybe if I do this, we’ll make this play.’ It creates diffusion with the team.”
Ironically, the Broncos players, through their meetings, have adopted a similar message that their next opponent, the New England Patriots led by Bill Belichick, have made famous: “Do your job."
“Focus on your job,” Ray pleaded. “Don’t point fingers at nobody else. Point fingers at yourself. What could I have done better.”