Broncos drop eighth straight in ugly loss to Dolphins

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla -- Eighty minutes before kickoff, John Elway stood at the 40-yard line talking with Dan Marino. The moment mocked the state of the Broncos and Dolphins. The combatants entered Sunday having lost a combined 12 straight games, doomed by cringe-worthy quarterback play. The Broncos clomped into Hard Rock Stadium as a two-point favorite despite going winless on the road this season. 

The NFL billed it as a game worthy of admission. It was more aptly described as a collision of sinking ships. Sunday's 35-9 loss drove home the Broncos' dreg status and cemented the notion that finding a starting quarterback -- and possibly a new head coach -- remains a top priority this offseason.

Without a significant upgrade from the trio of Trevor Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch, "wait 'til next" seems more like a warning.

"A couple of weeks ago, I would have been crushed. Now I am sitting back, and it's just laughable. I don't even know what to say," admitted receiver Emmanuel Sanders. "Broncos fans, Broncos organization, you know I am going to give my all. But at the end of the day what more can we do? What are we looking forward to. And I think that's the No. 1 question."

In a word, Sunday was embarrassing. And that's saying something for this team which now has entered the conversation as the franchise's worst of all-time. 

Maybe the Broncos sign Kansas City's Alex Smith. Perhaps, they wade into the mix for Washington's Kirk Cousins. Or they make a play for San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo. A change is not only recommended -- along the offensive line, too --  but required for the Broncos to become adequate.

Last season, the Broncos could not win a big game down the stretch. This season, they have not won any game anywhere since Oct. 1, an epic nosedive forcing increased scrutiny on first-year boss Vance Joseph's employment (to say nothing of special teams coach Brock Olivo). The Broncos own their longest losing streak since 1967, and are threatening to become the franchise's first team since 1964 to go winless in visiting stadiums.

Is it coaching, lack of talent, a confluence of factors?

"We have guys who push and work hard everyday and want to win. So I can't speak to talent, that's an offseason question. We can't fix that now," Joseph said. "We will see after the season, and see where we are and if it's a talent issue. Guys are working hard and pushing to win."

It's not the losses that could cost Joseph and staff their jobs. It's how the Broncos are falling. Six of the eight defeats have been by double figures. The Broncos are not competing, submarined by an anemic offense, exhausted defense and mistake-riddled special teams (the group had its second punt blocked, allowed a big punt return, were penalized for delay of game before a kickoff when they failed to recover an onside kick, and Isaiah McKenzie fumbled for the sixth time, resulting in a safety). Over the last 62 days -- the stretch since their last win -- the Broncos rank as the NFL's worst team. And it's not even close. 

All players interviewed on camera professed confidence in Joseph. However, some allowed that when they watch the film they don't see "Broncos" football, but rather a series of fundamental breakdowns.

"What is Broncos football? We have to find our identify," linebacker Von Miller said in a candid moment that revealed the team's despair. "The defense isn’t playing good enough to win. I’m not playing good enough to win. The whole team -- this one's on all of this.”

Added cornerback Chris Harris Jr., "This is the lowest since I have been here. I am going to keep working. Coach Joseph has been great. I don't know what it is. We can't make enough plays for him. I wouldn't say guys aren't responding. I think he's a great coach. But we are not executing on Sundays."

A single, second-quarter play provided a summary of Sunday's ineptness, creating a 14-point decisive swing.

When the ball left Siemian's hand, hope traveled with it. Until that point the Broncos believed they could snap a losing skid that turned this season from disappointing to odoriferous. 

Against this backdrop Siemian, who finished 19 for 41 for 200 yards and three interceptions, fired toward the Broncos sideline. Receiver Demaryius Thomas represented the intended target. Dolphins cornerback Xavier Howard figured the ball was for him. He read Siemian's eyes, jumped the route and raced 30 yards into the end zone. 

"We are talking about the same things every week," Thomas said.

The Broncos trailed 16-3 with 9:32 remaining in the half. The interception left the Broncos with an NFL worst minus-18 turnover margin. So bad is Denver, the Dolphins rubbed the Broncos' noses in it. Former offensive coordinator and Miami boss Adam Gase ordered and converted an onside kick with a 33-9 lead. Gase and Joseph remain friends, so Gase's venom appeared directed toward the Elway-led front office. 

"He was trying to embarrass us. He might be upset playing against his former team," Harris said. "I don't know if there was any bad blood. But apparently there was because he was trying to embarrass us."

Gase insisted it was not personal.

"Just playing 60 minutes,” Gase said. “We’re not going to slow down. I don’t care what the score is.”

After 20 minutes, Siemian had two interceptions, and his best play was retrieving a botched snap and shoving the ball out of the end zone to allow the Dolphins a safety rather than a touchdown. He lacked confidence, missed wide open receivers and bore a striking resemblance to the player who was fairly benched after the loss at Kansas City. He completed 13 of his first 33 passes, and none to Thomas or Sanders. At one point, FOX analyst Mark Schlereth wondered if Siemian "is really right-handed." 

It's been evident for weeks that the Broncos' quarterback of the future is not on the roster. It's fair to wonder if any of the current quarterbacks will be on the team in any capacity next season. On the road, the Broncos quarterbacks have thrown 12 interceptions with four touchdowns. 

The defense continues to show muscle before collapsing under the weight of poor field position and endless possessions. Without Domata Peko and Derek Wolfe, the Broncos were gashed for 145 yards on the ground. Safety Justin Simmons, proving why he will be part of the core moving forward, provided a highlight with a pick six to shave the deficit to 26-9 in the third quarter. Bradley Roby, starting for the suspended Aqib Talib, delivered arguably his best game, illustrating why he could replace Talib next season. Defensive lineman Shelby Harris showed out well. And running back C.J. Anderson ran hard, and played with passion. 

And that about covers it for highlights.

This team's issues are multi-layered, offering no simple solutions. The coaching staff has appeared overmatched since the bye week, the defeat general manager John Elway cited as the team becoming soft and complacent. Even after the firing of Mike McCoy, the offense remains listless, a reflection of a lack of talent for a team that has not drafted a Pro Bowler since 2012.

However, it goes beyond ability. The Broncos don't execute simple basics, continue to pile up penalties, and have no identity. 

"It's frustrating," said Anderson, who finished with 67 yards on 15 carries, receiving the bulk of work with Devontae Booker dealing with an illness. "We can't play a clean game."

Truth remains evident for the Broncos so regularly it becomes who they are. After establishing the run on their first series with Anderson and benefiting from an unnecessary roughness call, Siemian stepped on a jagged sea shell. He fired a fastball across the middle to Sanders when a change-up was required. The ball tipped off Sanders' hand, and into the waiting mitts of T.J. McDonald. 

On the next possession, Matt Paradis rifled a high snap through Siemian's hands. Siemian alertly pounced and shoved the ball out of the end zone, resulting in a safety. With Shelby "The Big Germ" Harris playing well and Roby providing SaranWrap coverage, the Broncos awoke in their third drive. Siemian connected on back-to-back passes to Virgil Green (35 yards) and Bennie Fowler (23 yards) to set up Brandon McManus' 32-yard field goal with 13:28 remaining in the half. 

It was a temporary balm on a migraine. The Broncos began this trip seeking a realistic victory. Now it's fair to wonder if the Broncos will win another game and how far the sweeping changes will reach. 

"100 percent. (Joseph) is our coach. We are just not putting wins on the board for him," Miller said. "Everything is going wrong for us."

Footnotes

Ndamukong Suh replaced Domata Peko with longest consecutive games started streak among active defensive lineman. Suh's run sits at 91 games. Peko's streak halted at 123 games after he sprained his knee in the Oakland loss. Peko hopes to start a new streak against the Jets, refusing to rule out playing Sunday. ... Chris Harris netted an acrobatic interception. 


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Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and TheDenverChannel.com’s Broncos page. Troy welcomes most of your emails at Troy.Renck@kmgh.com.

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