DENVER -- Shane Ray long ago covered his chest in tattoos, telling a story. But it was his words that were revealing after the Broncos fell 23-20 to the undefeated Los Angeles Rams on a raw Sunday. He believes hope exists.
The question came after I asked him if time is running out on this team and its head coach Vance Joseph.
"I have faith. As a player when you hear talk about your coach, it's tough. I respect coach Joseph. I want to win, man. I will follow that guy. I don't think about stuff like, 'they need to fire the head coach and the D-coordinator,'^" Ray said. "We have to do better. We have to point the finger at ourselves as player. I am all in. It's tough. Stick with us fans."
The Broncos continue to say the right things, but it's time to be about it, not talk about it.
"There are no moral victories," wisely said Joseph, whose status remains talk-radio fodder.
The numbers become impossible to ignore. With their season teetering on the verge of irrelevancy, the Broncos had 9,131 no shows Sunday. Of course, the weather contributed with Denver playing its coldest October game since 1969. However, the empty seats drove home the growing dissatisfaction with a team and a head coach that hasn't won in a month.
The Broncos showed fight, but that is faint praise for a franchise that claimed a Super Bowl two years ago. The Broncos lost to the Rams despite 4.5 sacks from Bradley Chubb and Von Miller.
That happens when you allow 200-yard rushers in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history. The Rams' Todd Gurley burrowed, blasted and bashed his way to 208 yards Sunday. He leads the NFL with 11 touchdowns, the fifth player to pull it off in his team's first six games.
"It's obvious when we are carrying for five or 10 yards a rush that you go with what is working," Gurley said. "It's a credit to the guys up front."
The Broncos continue to be involved with these types of milestones, whether it's Patrick Mahomes, Isaiah Crowell or Gurley. As the Broncos lost their fourth consecutive game, it draws into question Joseph's future with an upcoming Thursday game against Arizona, arguably the league's worst team. Can he survive another road defeat where he has posted a 1-9 record? The Broncos are 7-15 in his tenure with 10 losses by double digits.
"It's tough, but that's the perfect cure to play in four days and get a win," Joseph said. "We have to go back to work."
The intersection of anger and frustration arrived in the second quarter. The loudest applause came when backup Chad Kelly took a knee for the final first-half snap as Case Keenum entered and cleared the concussion protocol.
"Yeah I heard it. It's not the first time the crowd has been unhappy with what's going on the field. They should be pissed. I am pissed," said Keenum, who finished 25 of 41 for 322 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. "We have to be better. We are tired of saying that. But we have to."
Keenum is not the reason Broncos are losing. But he's among the chief accomplices. His eight interceptions are more than he posted last season in Minnesota. He alternated between providing hope and, well, nope for a Broncos offense that hasn't scored 30 points in 20 games, the longest active NFL streak.
Down 20-3, Keenum fired a pick that sent a battery of human OtterPops to the exits. Chubb returned the pulse with his third sack, leaving him with 4.5 for the season. The Broncos shaved deficit to 10 on Keenum's 22-yard connection to Sanders for a score.
Another big play followed as Keenum connected with rookie Courtland Sutton on a leaping 41-yard grab. A penalty for a hit on Sutton moved the ball to the 11-yard line. Then, like too many possessions this season, the drive stalled in the red zone. Keenum's fade attempt to tight end Jeff Heuerman fizzled, leading to a field goal. At 20-13, the Broncos received heavy doses of Gurley down the stretch.
The first scoring drive captured why the Broncos are a no longer a contender. Denver trailed 6-0 -- a fortunate deficit given the Rams' 134 yards on two possessions -- and delivered an ice pick to the Los Angeles defense. Keenum lofted an over-the-shoulder 44-yard touchdown pass to Sanders.
The Broncos were prepared to take the lead. And then they weren't. The refs ruled Sanders down by contact at the 1 -- a questionable call -- and then moved the Broncos back to the 16-yard line because the receiver hopped up after his catch and pointed his finger in the face of defensive back Troy Hill. The gesture, unnecessary as it was, cost the Broncos three points. They stalled and settled for Brandon McManus' 28-yard field goal.
"We were just having fun. I didn't do anything crazy besides saying, 'I got you on that play.' I pointed my finger at him, and he threw the flag, which is crazy because I have been in the league nine years pointing at guys," said Sanders, who caught seven passes for 115 yards. "Emotions were high. But it cost my team. I looked at the scoreboard, we lost by three points. I feel like we could have easily punched the ball in and got four points. I guess this loss is on me."
The Broncos held a defensive-only players meeting Monday after the Jets shredded them for 512 yards. Accountability and support were themes. The players avoided pointing fingers, but couldn't prevent another gashing on the ground. Miller lamented the performance even as the pass rush finally came to life.
"Second week in a row we have guys running for 250. I take that personally," Miller said. "We didn't do a great job today. I didn't do a great job. We will get it fixed, though."
Leading 6-3, the Rams kept humming. They scored on their first three possessions, but this stung in light of Sanders' undisciplined mistake. Los Angeles converted on fourth-and-1, Gurley galloping in for a 10-yard touchdown. It represented his 18th touchdown in his last nine games, and left him with 88 yards on his first nine carries. He nearly matched Isaiah Crowell's pace after the running back torched the Broncos for 219 yards last week, setting a Jets single-game record.
With every incompletion from Keenum, the boos grew louder from fans. Keenum, who has seven touchdowns this season, didn't play poorly as much as he played like a backup, fighting consistency issues. A potential second quarter drive submarined because of penalties. Trailing by 10, the Broncos responded with a strong drive that was undone by holding calls by Garett Bolles -- his league-high 15th since last season -- and Max Garcia. Garcia will likely will start along with guard Connor McGovern with fear that Ron Leary will be sidelined indefinitely with an Achilles injury.
Yes, the Broncos were better than last week. Yet, it wasn't good enough. That's what this season has come to, looking for a light in a tunnel and pretending it's not an oncoming train. Without a change in results, there will be changes. The only issue is when.
"We've got to figure out a way to bounce back," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We've got a tough road game. And we haven't won on the road since I can remember."
Left guard Ron Leary limped off the field in the third quarter with a lower injury and didn't return. There's fear he could be lost for an extended period of time with an Achilles' issue. Aaron Donald bull rushed him on the play. ... Bradley Chubb delivered his breakout game with two first-half sacks and three total. He told me last week he was frustrated, felt he could and would do more. He was right. ... Game time temperature was 25 degrees, representing the second coldest September or October contest in team history. The coldest? Try Oct. 12, 1969 vs. The Oakland Raiders. Denver lost 24-14 in 22-degree weather. ... Von Miller's sack drought ended. He shared a half sack with safety Darian Stewart in the second quarter and a second-half sack, ending his three-game skid. ... No surprises with inactives, led by last year's second round pick DeMarcus Walker. He is still unable to get on the field, stuck behind Shelby Harris and Adam Gotsis. Joining Walker on the sidelines: Kevin Hogan, Adam Jones, Shamarko Thomas, Alexander Johnson, Jared Veldheer (he could return next week from his knee injury), and Sam Jones.