OAKLAND, Calif. -- Coaches know what they're getting into in the NFL. A lack of winning can mean spending the holiday season with your job hanging in the balance.
“Nobody likes not winning; we all hate it," Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said. “We want all want to play hard, we all 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, for every guy in that locker room. That’s big a part of our team, our identity, that we all stick together, love, like and respect each other, that we all fight for each other. But it’s a production league -- when you’re not winning, it’s tough."
The Broncos are 11-20 in Joseph’s tenure, and Monday’s first half was a microcosm of all the things the Broncos have seemed to do over and over again this season. Here are some lowlights:
The Raiders’ first touchdown came on a 99-yard punt return by Dwayne Harris. Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom fell on the top of the ball at the Raiders’ 1-yard line but didn’t keep it. Harris scooped up the loose ball and ran, untouched, up the Broncos' sideline. “That was tough -- great awareness by him," Broncos safety Justin Simmons said. “ … He knew once we touch it, he could just pick it up and go, and he had a whole lot of room to run."
“The ball is down on the half-yard line, I guess we didn’t have possession," Joseph said. “ … That was a bizarre play, obviously."
Keenum, who is fighting for his future as well, didn’t make note of the play clock as the Broncos took a delay-of-game penalty when they were trying to convert a fourth-and-1.
Rookie wide receiver Courtland Sutton couldn’t maintain possession on what had the potential for a game-changing play. He ran out of bounds on third down, was short of the first down on another play and was called for offensive pass interference later to negate another Broncos first-down conversion.
In addition, the Broncos ran 31 plays in the first half and converted only two first downs with no touchdowns. Von Miller didn’t have a sack, and without traded wide receiver Demaryius Thomas or the injured Emmanuel Sanders, the Broncos lacked a playmaker. The Broncos also had another 12-men-on-defense penalty.
Oh, and rookie running back Phillip Lindsay -- the brightest spot of the season -- left the game with an injury to his right wrist.
The Broncos also lost one of their longest streaks, as they are now guaranteed back-to-back losing seasons for the first time since 1971-72.
“It's frustrating," Joseph said. “Our team, I thought, we maxed out every game, probably the Jets game [a 34-16 loss in Week 5] we didn’t max out. But it didn’t feel good today, we didn’t play good enough football offensively to win. Defensively we had our moments, but we still gave up two big drives when we had to get stops, we didn’t play winning football."
Simply put, the Broncos looked listless. No matter what personnel is in a game or what the team does or doesn't do, it all finds its way back to the head coach.
The true measuring stick of where the Broncos are as an organization, top to bottom, is that over the past three seasons (which predates Joseph's tenure), the Cleveland Browns, the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers are on the short list of teams that have lost more games than Denver. All three have beaten the Broncos this season.
The Broncos did slug it out with some of the league’s best this season, even giving some who will play in the postseason all they wanted along the way. But on this rainy night in Northern California, they simply looked like a thin roster without a magical playbook or even a little good timing.
“Just didn’t do enough personally for us to win," Miller said. “ … You want to win, you want to go out and win every game, it’s tough. Especially being part of an organization that’s used to elite play and elite wins … it was the story of the season … we play every game for our brothers and our coaches, we just came up short."
And when Broncos president John Elway considers Joseph’s future a week from now, he will have to decide just how much of what has happened was Joseph’s fault.