DENVER -- On a cloudless December day, the Denver Broncos may have gotten a sunshine reprieve from their frustrated faithful and then they got a football reprieve for coach Vance Joseph.
Going into Sunday’s game with the New York Jets, the Broncos were a one-point underdog, at home, with an eight-game losing streak in hand. And there was plenty of drive-time discussion over the past week about exactly how many empty seats would be waiting for the home team.
But then the sun came out for a postcard-worthy, 60-degree day and 70,332 fans made it through the gates -- 5,186 tickets went unused -- to see the Broncos rediscover the only tempo that has really worked for them this season in a 23-0 victory over the Jets. And while it was a far more subdued group than what usually sways the stadium in the loudest moments of better days, it was not the football mausoleum folks remember down the stretch in 2010.
While the Broncos have been formally eliminated from the postseason, the win ended their longest losing streak since 1967.
For weeks the Broncos have seemingly tried to jam a square peg into a round hole on offense. Over and over again they have opened up the formations, thrown far more than they’ve run and struggled to protect the quarterback.
Then came the turnovers -- lots of them. Then came the deficits -- also lots of them. And the losses piled up.
But Sunday, the Broncos used plenty of bigger personnel groupings, even a smattering of three-tight-end looks, and had the kind of composure on offense they haven’t had in weeks. The rushing numbers won’t make anybody break out the medals -- they had 62 yards rushing at the end of the third quarter -- but the Broncos kept the kind of rhythm on offense largely not seen since the first four weeks of the season.
The Broncos' defense, with the luxury of not having to defend short field after short field after Denver turnovers, certainly helped the cause. The Jets had minus-14 yards of offense at the end of the first quarter and just 56 yards of offense when they took over on their own 22-yard line with just under four minutes to play in the third quarter. The Jets finished with 100 total yards of offense.
In short, it was the coveted “clean game’’ Joseph has kept saying the Broncos needed -- the one he kept saying they had shown the potential of playing in weeks of "great practices," followed by dismal game-day work. And while losses would only improve the Broncos’ draft status, something that is often required to dig out from the kind of season the Broncos have constructed, Joseph needs games like Sunday's to show he still has the locker room's attention.
Joseph’s picture has appeared on plenty of “hot seat’’ lists in recent weeks, so while the Broncos have never done a one-and-done tenure with a head coach, Joseph’s status, or some members of his staff, wouldn’t have been helped by another showing like the meltdown a week ago in South Florida.
This is a team that has struggled with the little things at times as well as the big things. The people who want to stay after what figures to be a rather extreme makeover in the coming offseason must show something before it’s all said and done.
That may have cost them a few spots in April, but the guys who have suffered through the past two months don’t care about that.