CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The Broncos stagger clumsily into their season finale against Kansas City, losers of 10 games and eight by double digits. They suffered their longest losing streak in 50 years, finished with their third worst road record, and displayed fundamental and undisciplined breakdowns.
Pick a stat, beyond the defense's overall body of work, and it reflects poorly on the Broncos, and, as a result, first year coach Vance Joseph. They rank 26th in penalties per game at 7.3 with rookie left tackle Garett Bolles second overall among offensive linemen with 10. They rank 25th in red zone points. Other than C.J. Anderson's admirable push toward a 1,000-yard season, the offense regressed again, undermined by a porous line (47 sacks, fourth most) and awful quarterback play (20 interceptions, tied for second highest).
The Broncos have played three quarterbacks this season. Only one -- Trevor Siemian -- has won a start. Paxton Lynch, who is 0-1, takes over for Brock Osweiler, who finished winless in four starts, though he delivered the team's lone road victory with a gutsy relief performance against the Colts.
The Broncos had hoped Lynch would start last week, but he lacked confidence in practice in his injured left ankle. Joseph decided Lynch wasn't ready. He is now, and faces a Kansas City Chiefs team that will likely rest some starters with a playoff berth clinched.
"We want to see (Lynch) play," Joseph said. "That hasn't happened. Our goal is to win the game. But again, with it being a quarterback issue going into the offseason we want to see him play. We want to see what this player is."
It will be difficult, if not impossible, for Lynch to change minds Sunday. General manager John Elway has prioritized finding a starting quarterback as his top priority. The Broncos are casting a wide net in their search, looking at free agents, possibly Washington's Kirk Cousins or one of Minnesota's three quarterbacks, and potential draft picks. With one game remaining, the Broncos own the sixth pick overall. Elway seemed to send a message to Lynch by scouting Wyoming's Josh Allen in full view of the ESPN cameras during the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Broncos will also watch Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield in person at the Rose Bowl.
This week marks the end of a forgettable season. This Broncos' issues extend beyond quarterback. They face a third straight season of needing to upgrade the offensive line (if they sign a free agent quarterback, they could go left tackle with their first pick, and move Ron Leary back to left guard). And the defense will probably get younger at multiple positions. The line of players who are expected to be asked to restructure their contracts will be long, likely including Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, Darian Stewart, and others.
Joseph has appeared safe with two wins in the past three games. He's in the first year of a four-year contract with the Broncos reluctant to fire him, leading to their fourth head coach in five seasons. However, the NFL proves it's never safe to say never. At the minimum, as I wrote Sunday, changes are likely in the coaching staff.
Losing is only part of the issue. It's how the Broncos have lost that has left an indelible imprint, as this year's draft class has failed to contribute other than Bolles. The Broncos struggled to be competitive for long stretches. They were outscored on the road by 106 points, where they had a minus-11 turnover margin. They haven't won an AFC West road game since Peyton Manning retired. Any chance of respectability was squandered with home collapses against the previously winless New York Giants after a bye week and the lowly Cincinnati Bengals.
Change is certain. It starts at the quarterback position this week with Lynch, but that figures to be only a hint of what lies ahead.