DENVER — Unlike last Saturday's kicks, Broncos special teams coach Tom McMahon shot straight Thursday.
"Taylor (Russolino) was terrible. He had a bad day. It got too big for him," McMahon said, before adding later in the interview. "This is professional football. It is a production-based business."
The sobering reality rings true: At the highest level, sports are about as sympathetic as a parking ticket. The Broncos have multiple areas where they have fallen short this season, most notably in quarterback play and takeaways.
Second-year player Drew Lock has taken baby steps forward over the past four starts, ending his seven-game interception streak and showing more efficiency in pre-snap reads and working through progressions. However, he has lost fumbles in each of the last two games, both of which led to touchdowns for the opposition. The Broncos average 19.8 points per game — it spikes to 21 if you remove the QB-free outing against the Saints — meaning they operate with little margin for error.
It has amplified Lock's issues.
He is tied for second worst with 13 interceptions, his 14 touchdowns rank 22nd overall and his 57.7% completion percentage sits 35th, ahead of only the since benched Carson Wentz. The latter stat is troubling because the league-wide completion percentage of 65.5 is the highest ever through Week 15 in NFL history.
In the NFL, availability and predictability remain foundations of good players. Consistency becomes everything at quarterback because it means you can be counted on, and you give your team a chance to win on a regular basis. Honestly, it applies to the entire club.
"Broncos Country expects a lot out of us and I wouldn't want it any other way. I am not resentful toward that. I love how you media guys expect more. There are some teams that haven't won a Super Bowl in 50 years. There are some teams that losing seasons is what they do. Here at the Broncos we are used to winning Super Bowls and having winning seasons," right guard Dalton Risner said.
"We realize we haven't done that," he continued. "We have to be better. When it comes to consistency, I think that's exactly the problem on our team right now. I am not a head coach or GM. All I can tell you is that, one we are young football team. And these are not excuses. Two, some of our best players are out (with injuries). It comes down consistency. We can't face the Panthers — I realize they were a 4-9 at the time — and play the way we did on offense then come back and play the way we did against the Bills. It's all about all 11 guys doing their job. I truly believe the more time we get together as an offense, the better we will get at consistency."
Lock has learned the hard way how turnovers doom teams. According to offensive boss Pat Shurmur, Lock has shown growth in how he manages the game.
"As the season has gone on, there’s less of 'What the heck was that?'" Shurmur said of Lock.
Lock, though, understands fans and media alike are questioning whether he's the answer moving forward.
"I do believe I’m the guy here. We are progressing over time with this offense and hopefully getting another year in the same offense, the sky is the limit for us as a young team," Lock said. "We learned a lot this year. We’re going to keep learning and keep making plays, and hopefully win these last two and look forward to going into the next season.”
The 5-9 record does not fall squarely on Lock. The defense has been disappointing in a critical category: takeaways. Denver has 12, tied for 30th. The Broncos had 17 last season. So the Broncos are on pace to finish with fewer takeaways in two seasons than Fangio's Chicago team had in his final year (36).
Denver beat the Chargers earlier this season, in part, because of a game-changing interception by Bryce Callahan in the end zone. The cornerback room, however, remains thin because of season-ending injuries to Callahan, Essang Bassey and Duke Dawson, not ideal when facing rookie sensation Justin Herbert.
There have been too few plays like Callahan's. When they did happen, Denver usually won, like against Miami— the lone victory against a team with a winning record — New England and Los Angeles.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio said Bradley Chubb (ankle) and Phillip Lindsay (knee/hip) will not practice Thursday. Hopefully, he said, they can practice Saturday before boarding the plane. "It's going to go down to the wire (with both of them)," Fangio said. ...
Fangio added extra reps to the schedule this week to allow the players to be off on Christmas. ...
The Broncos cut linebacker Mark Barron earlier in the week. He dealt with multiple injuries and never played a snap after being signed to improve Denver's pass coverage at the position following Justin Strnad's season-ending wrist injury in training camp
Graham Glasgow can play center, if need be. But the Broncos are not looking to make that switch to create a spot for rookie Netane Muti. That's because Fangio is encouraged by rookie Lloyd Cushenberry's progress. "He has improved a lot this year," he said.