ENGLEWOOD — A lack of victories brings sobering clarity. Following consecutive losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns, Broncos coach Vance Joseph understands why speculation continues to swirl that he will be fired at season's end.
I asked if he was concerned about his future at Monday's press conference.
"It's not about me. It’s about my coaches and my players… It’ll be tough for me to find a better staff in this league," said Joseph, who is 11-19 overall and 7-8 at home in two seasons. "My focus is on the Oakland Raiders."
Signs of progress were undermined by the recent defeats. Not only did the losses knock the Broncos out of the playoffs for the third consecutive year, but they involved questionable coaching decisions. The Broncos allowed San Francisco tight end George Kittle to collect 210 receiving yards in the first half of 20-14 loss. And Joseph elected to kick a field goal on fourth-and-1 with 4:39 remaining against the Browns. It shaved the Browns' lead to a single point, but Denver never had another scoring opportunity.
"It was the right move for our team," Joseph said, adding that he thought they needed more than a single yard based on the spot and that the inability to run the ball influenced his decision.
Even before Joseph opened his mouth, it had not been a great day. A report in The Colorado Springs Gazette outlined how general manager John Elway tried to lure Mike Shananan back to coach the team. Sources told Denver7, Elway had two options: keep Joseph for a second season or fire him and conduct an exhaustive search including Shanahan as a candidate. Elway weighed his options, and chose to keep Joseph and find him a new quarterback in Case Keenum.
It hasn't worked out. And Joseph awoke this morning to news of how close he was to not returning a year ago.
"No it didn’t make me uncomfortable. I’m a competitor. But I get it. It’s about winning football games. It’s not my job to hire or fire me," said Joseph on returning last season when he was almost let go. "I’m just going to work. As far as that report last year, it didn’t move me at all."
The Broncos need wins in their final two games to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1972. It is the type of milepost that has defined Joseph's tenure. The Broncos suffered an eight-game losing streak in 2017, longest in 50 years. They won a single road game, and lost to Cincinnati in Denver for the first time since 1975. This season, the Broncos were blown out by the Jets -- they have lost 10 games by double digits over the past two seasons, though only two this year -- and they fell to Houston and Cleveland at home when clock management and coaching moves were panned by fans and media alike.
"We want to win. So these next two games are important for us to finish the right way," said Joseph on avoiding an under .500 finish. "That part is very important to me."
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. told Denver7 he was prepared to begin football activity this week, but that plan has been scratched with the Broncos eliminated. He's expected to be placed on injured reserve, though the crack in his fibula is almost completely healed. ... Joseph seems to have run out of patience with linebacker Shane Ray, who was inactive last Saturday. He has one sack this season, and Joseph said he's not sure if he will play again this season. ... Dymonte Thomas beat out Su'a Cravens for his spot because of his ability to cover tight ends. Some teammates wonder if Cravens wouldn't be better off as a full-time linebacker.