PHILADELPHIA -- The old, new quarterback stared across the line of scrimmage, trying to reconcile the cacophony of noise around him. Brock Osweiler fled the Broncos 16 months ago, and returned with renewed hope.
He was cast not as a savior, but as a quarterback who understood it was inexcusable to turn the ball over. Moments later, he fired a pick into Patrick Robinson's belly. The defense responded with a broken spirit, undone by lacking discipline and weeks of carrying too heavy a burden. The Broncos had no blueprint, no resistance and no chance.
The schedule insists there are eight more weeks. But the Broncos' status as contender died on Sunday, the obituary written in a 51-23 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, their most humiliating since 2010.
"It starts with me," coach Vance Joseph said. "I have to fix it. We had a great week of practice in all three phases. But obviously I missed something. It always starts with me."
According to multiple players, Joseph told the team afterward they needed to search their souls, make it personal, do a "self check." Several said the insinuation was that some players quit on the team.
"I don't think that guys quit," linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "We didn't play well at all. We have to find a way to keep plugging away. It was bad. Nobody can feel good about this."
The Broncos arrived at Lincoln Financial Field looking to rescue their season. Instead a sobering truth became revealed. They are a bottom feeder. What has happened over the last five weeks remains one of the most dizzying spirals in franchise history. A sexy Super Bowl contender after a 3-1 start, the Broncos have dropped four straight games by double digits.
"We got our ass kicked," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "Winners find a way to win. And that's why this kills me. We let them run the ball on us (197 yards on 37 carries). We had too many penalties (14 for 105 yards). We are fighting with each other. People are getting tired of it. One thing goes wrong and the whole thing crumbles."
Each of the previous three had some plausible explanations: lost edge after a bye, offensive line troubles, Trevor Siemian's carelessness with the football. There was no way to rationalize this. The Broncos were overwhelmed, outcoached and undressed.
"It was all bad," said quarterback Brock Osweiler, whom Joseph did not commit to as the starter against the Patriots. "All of it."
A first-time head coach at any level, Joseph had a lot to answer for after the ugliest regular-season loss since the Josh McDaniel era.
"We have to coach and play better," Joseph said. "That's on me."
The Eagles buried the Broncos at the neck, leaving their head exposed presumably so they could mock them, including a fourth down passing conversion late in the fourth. For the fourth straight week, the outcome was decided, in large part, before intermission. The Broncos entered the game allowing 21 points and 261 yards per game. They yielded 31 and 266 in the first half. They have been outscored 77-15 in the first half over the past four weeks. Couple that with nine penalties for 70 yards by intermission, and no one escapes blame. It represented the most points allowed in a first half and in a game since Oct. 24, 2010, the abyss of McDaniels' reign of error.
"They just beat us. I don't know what to say," explained cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "We aren't a good football team."
When Osweiler threw his second pick, a mindless toss into coverage, the Broncos' sat at minus-13 in turnover margin, worst in the league. Rather than offer a juxtaposition, the game only reinforced the previous month.
Starting Osweiler — long overdue after Siemian's interception binge — was cast as a reset button in the locker room. The defense admitted privately and publicly that it wanted a "fair chance," an opportunity to play without being compromised and with a lead. All played out in the first quarter.
Osweiler led an impressive, though slippery opening drive. The Broncos scored on their first possession for the first time since Week 2. He leaned on Demaryius Thomas (eight catches, 70 yards), benefited from a leaping catch by Cody Latimer, and lucked out when Jalen Mills dropped a potential pick six. The drive worked with multiple tight ends and stalled when three wide sets appeared. Brandon McManus, who played his home Temple games here, buried a 52-yard field goal. The Broncos entered the game having not led in any of their four losses.
The advantage disappeared in a blink, DMX's "Party Up" blaring throughout the stadium after Carson Wentz deeked Aqib Talib on a 32-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. It foreshadowed the defense's worst day in years. Wentz changed his cadence, leading to multiple offsides penalties on the Broncos. He also audibled repeatedly, with Harris admitting it seemed like Wentz knew "exactly" what Broncos were doing defensively.
"I don't know how to even put it into words," said Shane Ray, whose left wrist was sore, leaving him wondering if he will be playing in pain the remainder of the season.
Talib, upset about an interference call on the previous play, bit on the spread option fake, allowing Jeffery to run free. After sloppy possession by the Broncos -- Garett Bolles has to reduce penalties at some point -- Wentz connected on back-to-back strikes to set up Jake Elliott's 45-yard field goal. Mercifully, the Eagles sat Wentz midway through the fourth quarter.
Then when it looked like things could not get worse, they did. Repeatedly.
Osweiler went against his own logic, doing the one thing he was told not to do. With Broncos needing a spark, he lit a dumpster fire with a first-play interception to Robinson, who was blanketing Thomas. The Eagles struck quickly with creativity on third down. Using the Broncos' aggression against them, Wentz allowed the rush to leak in before sneaking a slip screen pass to Corey Clement for a 15-yard score. The Eagles inflated their cushion to 17-3.
There was a moment of flickers. Embattled punt returner Isaiah McKenzie delivered a career-best 44-yard punt return. The Broncos inched toward a score when controversy arose on third down. Emmanuel Sanders appeared to convert on a catch, but it was ruled incomplete. Joseph elected not to review the play -- he lost a timeout on the game's second play to avoid 12-men on the field.
"They said upstairs (with Broncos spotter) that it wasn't a catch," Joseph said.
McManus drilled a 53-yard field goal, but it was a fly on the Eagles' windshield.
Wentz, looking every bit the NFL MVP, toyed with an undisciplined Broncos defense. Philadelphia turned a roughing-the-passer penalty on Zach Kerr into a breathtaking score. Wentz connected with Trey Burton for a 27-yard touchdown for a 24-6 bulge. In an embarrassing first half, the Broncos' inability to cover tight ends remained near the top of the list, an indictment of the game plan. Even with Zach Ertz out, the Eagles wore out the Broncos just as Evan Engram and Travis Kelce did in recent weeks.
"This isn't on the offense. This is on defense," said Von Miller, who finished with a team-high eight tackles and one sack. "We pissed the bed."
Osweiler showed flashes, but the offense sputtered consistently on third down, converting one of its first six attempts. The Broncos settled for a 24-yard field goal, McManus' third of the half, when only a touchdown would work. At 24-9, the Broncos seemed merely chum to a great white shark.
Running back Jay Ajayi, rejuvenated by trade to Eagles this week, burst 46 yards, providing an exclamation point with a leap into the end zone. The Broncos showed some fight late, but it amounted to nothing more than fantasy league statistics. Thomas ended his touchdown drought at 13 games, and Miller registered a strip sack of Nick Foles that Brandon Marshall returned 19 yards for a score before a half-empty stadium.
In one way, Joseph was proven right. The Broncos' issues extend beyond benching a slumping Siemian. But after the worst regular-season loss in the John Elway era -- the Sea Sick Super Bowl has been expunged from the memory of fans -- Joseph knows the problems include the mirror.
Halfway into his inaugural season, he has waded knee deep into a crisis. How he navigates this mess will say about a lot about the players' belief in him and the Broncos' future at multiple positions.
"It's about reaching deep," guard Ron Leary said, "and deciding what kind of man you want to be."
The Broncos caught a break when Eagles tight end Zach Ertz's hamstring acted up during warmups. The Eagles made him inactive. The Broncos entered the game ranking 27th in coverage against tight ends this season, and it only became worse against backups. ... The 51 points allowed was the most since 59 by the Raiders in 2010. .... The Broncos' inactives featured one mild surprise: inside linebacker Todd Davis. Davis told Denver7 on Friday he expected to play, but it was determined his high ankle sprain needed another week of recovery. Joining Davis as inactives included receiver Jordan Taylor, Paxton Lynch, Lorenzo Doss and DeMarcus Walker (he remains a disappointing healthy scratch until he improves on special teams). ... Joseph on the 14 penalties. "It's unacceptable. We can't have it." ... Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins, "I don't think any of us anticipated this. We are proving ourselves week in and week out."