Let’s get the history lesson out of the way first: The Broncos, 6-9 after Monday night’s 27-14 loss to the Raiders, are assured of their first back-to-back losing seasons since 1971 and ’72.
Under the headline “Nightmare before Christmas,” Denver’s KUSA-TV noted:
“Vance Joseph will wake up Christmas morning as head coach of the Denver Broncos.
“New Year’s Day could be a different matter. Joseph coached hard, his players played hard and at times this season, his team played well.
“But the NFL in general and the Broncos, in particular, are only about results, not the process.”
After Monday’s loss, quarterback Case Keenum said he felt particularly bad for how this season has played out, given that it likely will cost Joseph his job after two seasons as the Broncos’ head coach.
“We all want to play better,” Keenum told reporters. “I want to win for Coach Joseph. We all love him. He’s an incredible human and a great football coach. I want to play hard for him and I want to play hard for everybody in that locker room. That’s a big part of our team and our identity in that we stay together and we love and like and respect each other and we want to fight for each other.”
“But it’s a production league. When you’re not winning, it’s tough.”
Keenum was 21 of 32 for 194 yards and two touchdowns after scrambling and throwing a 19-yard touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton with 7:31 to play.
“Oh my goodness, he was playing his butt off,” offensive tackle Jared Veldheer said.
“We’re playing as hard as we can and we’re giving it everything we’ve got,” Keenum said. “You should see those guys in the huddle, second half when we were going (hurry-up) tempo. … They were giving it everything they’ve got. I love these guys, I love this locker room. I love playing hard, I love fighting and we’ve got a lot of fighters.”
They’ve also got a lot of losses. Too many likely to save Joseph’s job coaching a team only three seasons removed from a Super Bowl 50 victory.
“It’s frustrating,” Joseph said. “I thought our team maximized every game. Probably the Jets’ game we didn’t max out. We didn’t play good enough football today, offensively. Defensively, we had our moments, but we still gave up too many drives and didn’t get enough stops so we didn’t play winning football today.”
The associated trivia from the last time the Broncos had back-to-back losing seasons almost a half-century ago: The coaches then were Lou Saban and Jerry Smith in 1971 and John Ralston in 1972. The quarterbacks were Steve Ramsey and Don Horn in ’71; Charley Johnson and Ramsey in ’72.
That, KUSA noted, was the end of a dubious, 13-season run of futility during which the Broncos hadn’t posted a winning season since the franchise’s inception in the old AFL. Never since have the Broncos been that bad.