MIAMI — 80 degrees, scattered clouds, a light breeze; it was truly a perfect day for football in South Florida.
It took less than 12 minutes on the clock, though, for a dark cloud to plant itself directly over the Denver Broncos sideline.
With three minutes and 12 seconds remaining in the first quarter of the contest against the Miami Dolphins, Broncos center Matt Paradis Manny Ramirezed a snap right over the head of quarterback du jour, Trevor Siemian, who made one of his best plays of the day and batted the ball out of the back end zone for a safety.
The Broncos were only down two, but it felt like 200. A loss already a foregone conclusion, just as it was last week when Paxton Lynch threw a goal-line interception and the week before when Brock Osweiler threw one of his own.
Right now, the Broncos don’t believe that they’re going to win. Maybe it’s the revolving door at quarterback. Maybe it’s the revolving doors in front of the quarterback. Maybe they don’t believe in the coaching.
“It just keeps piling up for us man,” said cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
“I guess after a while, guys kinda, um,” he paused for a quick moment before saying something damning, “kinda stop believing.”
Belief in winning is a culture, it’s a mindset that comes from the top down and takes years to fortify. Anyone that follows the Broncos knows that, they’ve seen what winning culture looks like for a long time. Unfortunately, as we are seeing in 2017, it can be torn down in a matter of weeks, a whole lot faster than it can be attained.
“What is Bronco football?” Von Miller said rhetorically after the game.
It sure as heck ain’t this. Well, it used to not be this.
In a game that featured three interceptions, two safeties, a blocked punt, a failed onside kick in the third quarter, a surrendered onside kick in the fourth quarter down 24 points and, most importantly, a 26-point loss to a team that had lost five in a row, it all felt like the new normal. None of it was surprising.
Somehow, some way, this is the new Bronco football.
“Everything is going wrong for us,” Miller said at the podium.
Inside the locker room, Emmanuel Sanders solicited answers to the Broncos problems from the media while Shelby Harris reminded those same media members that his job is still better than theirs.
“Every snap out there is a blessing,” he said. “There’s people out there that have regular jobs. Look at you guys.”
I, for one, love this “regular job.” I enjoy it now, and I enjoyed it when I covered the 2012 Colorado Buffaloes, a team that went 1-11. Now, those abysmal Colorado teams were far, far, far less talented than these Broncos, but they had the exact same problem, they didn’t truly believe they were going to win when they set foot on the field. When one thing went wrong, the downward spiral went into full force.
Not only do the Broncos need to take a long look at each an every player on their roster, they need a massive attitude overhaul, and that can be far more tricky. Winning culture isn’t a switch, and that’s the most concerning part of all of this. While losses may actually be a positive for Denver right now, loser’s mentality is like sports herpes, that stuff sticks with you.
What’s the remedy, you ask? Leadership.
Now, that leadership can come from a few different angles. It can come from the head coach, it can come from the quarterback, or it can come from another member of the team, but the Broncos are lacking it right now. Big time.
How they plan to fill that void and fix that problem will be interesting, but as they rebuild, retool, reboot or whatever they want to call it, leadership—not quarterback skill or anything else—needs to be priority No. 1.