DENVER -- The optics remain ugly. The Broncos sit in last place in the AFC West. They own five straight double-digit losses, and have led for less than five minutes during this stretch. Forget losing, they are struggling to compete.
Playing arguably the league's three best teams in consecutive weeks -- Kansas City, Philadelphia, New England -- exposed the Broncos' issues, and laid bare the inexperience of coach Vance Joseph, defensive coordinator Joe Woods and special teams boss Brock Olivo.
At 3-6, no one escapes blame. Perhaps the most revealing statistic is how the defense no longer erases shortcomings. For two seasons, the Broncos' defense covered up more blemishes than Clinique. The Broncos won a Super Bowl behind a menacing, fang-bearing unit that made quarterbacks miserable and created turnovers. Even when the Broncos' offense gave them little chance or compromised them, the defense held firm.
That is no longer the case, the weight of carrying the team finally creating cracks.
The sobering number: The Broncos have allowed 78 points after opponents takeaways. It ranks dead last, 18 more than the Chicago Bears.
After last Sunday's loss, the frustration surfaced. Multiple players grumbled about the special teams. It was one thing to spot Tom Brady a mulligan with Isaiah McKenzie's latest gaffe, but to follow it with a kick return for a touchdown and a blocked punt? It proved too much.
One loose thread was pulled, and the entire sweater unraveled. It broke the defense's back, if not its will.
After nine games, the Broncos' defense sits in foreign territory with unrecognizable statistics. Denver is allowing 26.9 points per game, which sits 29th overall. A battery of points have been on short fields given the Broncos' dead last ranking in turnover margin. When asked to pick up the flailing offense and special teams, the defense has struggled, allowing opponents to score touchdowns in 60 percent of their red zone trips. Denver's best players -- Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib -- remain marginalized by quick passing attacks that rely on running backs and tight ends in coverage against safeties and linebackers. The Broncos led the league in sacks in 2015 and ranked third in 2016. They currently sit 18th overall.
Talking on 104.3 The Fan on Monday, Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe admitted he's never been more frustrated during a season.
"I am just starting to get healthy, and nothing can go right," Wolfe said. "We can't get into any kind of groove."
As odoriferous as this stretch has been, hope flickers. The schedule relents, with an upcoming home game against the slumping Cincinnati Bengals. And as incongruent as it seems, the Broncos could sneak into the playoffs given the mess at the bottom of the AFC.
That, however, remains a pipe dream until the Broncos can play a clean game without a plethora of turnovers and mistakes. No defense can overcome this, not even one that won a Super Bowl two years ago.