Mike Shanahan and his chosen project of the future, Jay Cutler, seemed to have something really special brewing in the early stages of the season, as Cutler led the Broncos to a 3-0 start while throwing for an eye popping 914 yards and 8 touchdowns.
But the entire time the Broncos were clicking on all cylinders offensively, Shanahan knew the Broncos were extremely fortunate to not be 1-2 at this point in time, given how badly their defense played and how they were literally given a victory by official Ed Hochuli.
Despite this, the Broncos offense was playing so well, that Shanahan and company thought they would weather the storm and get by on Cutler's golden arm.
Shanahan guessed wrong.
A blowout loss at the hands of lowly Kansas City would begin a skid for the Broncos in which they would drop four of their next five games, taking the 3-0 start and washing it away with seemingly the same ease as a Cutler deep ball.
After a loss to Miami at home, which saw the Broncos basically throw the ball on every play, Shanahan's group faced a short week and a huge road game against floundering, but still dangerous, Cleveland. They would go on to win that Thursday Night contest in another shootout - with Cutler throwing for 447 yards and 3 touchdowns.
However, the most alarming stat was not Cutler's passing yardage, but rather the fact even in spite of a game that ranked as the 3rd best outing in franchise history for a Denver quarterback - the Broncos still only won by 4 points against a 3-6 club starting a QB that had never started a professional game before.
And again, despite the defense being miserable, the Broncos kept finding ways to win, as they would defeat three of their next four opponents to take their record to 8-5 and all but clinch the AFC West.
Or so they thought.
With the Broncos only needing to win one of their final three games to seal a trip to the postseason, the Broncos defense surrendered 112 points to close out the year. The finale being a 52-21 drubbing at the hands of the San Diego Chargers, the 2008 AFC West Champions, who were left for dead a month prior to this contest.
The Broncos finished 2008 ranked 29th against the run and the pass, but with the way they played down the stretch, it's hard to find a defense that was any worse than the Denver Broncos.
Offensively, the Broncos finished 2nd in total offense and third in pass yardage per game. But a rash of injuries to the Broncos running backs made a rushing attack virtually invisible down the stretch.
Above all else though, the failure to close out the division would begin a chain of events that would shake up the Broncos franchise more than anyone could have possibly imagined.
S Brian Dawkins (Philadelphia)
LB Andra Davis (Cleveland)
RB Correll Buckhalter (Philadelphia)
RB Lamont Jordan (New England)
S Renaldo Hill (Miami)
WR Jabar Gaffney (New England)
DT/DE Ronald Fields (San Francisco)
LB Nick Greisen (Baltimore)
WR Brandon Lloyd (Chicago)
T Brandon Gorin (St. Louis)
QB Chris Simms (Tennessee)
DT Darrell Reid (Indianapolis)
S Marquand Manuel (Detroit)
S Marlon McCree (Jacksonville)
T Erik Pears (Oakland)
CB Dre Bly (San Francisco)
RB Anthony Alridge (Washington)
CB Karl Paymah (Minnesota)
LB Niko Koutouvides (Tampa Bay)
QB Patrick Ramsey (Tennessee)
1-18. Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee
2-37. Alphonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest
2-48. Darcel McBath, FS, Texas Tech
3-64. Richard Quinn, TE, North Carolina
4-114. David Bruton, FS, Notre Dame
4-132. Seth Olsen, G, Iowa
5-141. Kenny McKinley, WR, South Carolina
6-174. Tom Brandstater, QB, Fresno State
7-225. Blake Schlueter, C, TCU
However, maybe Pat Bowlen wishes he could have that one back.
That's because the man he hired, Josh McDaniels, would immediately make the biggest mistake possible by entertaining the idea of acquiring his former pet project in New England, quarterback Matt Cassel.
To say Jay Cutler was not happy was an understatement. Cutler was so ticked off by the reports he was nearly traded, he went AWOL and basically forced the Broncos to move him weeks after Cassel was sent packing to division rival Kansas City.
In return for Cutler, a man that threw for 4526 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2008, McDaniels received Kyle Orton and draft picks from the Chicago Bears.
So now after alienating the teams franchise player, McDaniels is seemingly stuck with a far lesser talent in Orton. And as if that weren't bad enough, his best tight end Tony Scheffler and best wide receiver Brandon Marshall also want to be traded before the start of the season.
But to discuss the players already on the roster, we can talk about the offensive and defensive players that most certainly will still be Denver Broncos for the time being.
McDaniels also brought over free agent wide receivers Jabar Gaffney and Brandon Lloyd to pair with Eddie Royal and Brandon Marshall - should Marshall have a change of heart and elect to play this season in Denver. Assuming Tony Scheffler also suits up in Denver, he will once again be paired with Daniel Graham and draft pick Richard Quinn.
On the offensive line, probably the strongest unit on the Broncos roster, last years first round pick Ryan Clady had a great rookie season and will once again be the starting left tackle for the Broncos. Ben Hamilton and Casey Wiegmann also put forth good seasons a year ago.
Defensively, there weren't many positive things to say about this group a year ago, and their offseason may not change this anytime soon. Former 49ers head coach and Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan will oversee the defense in 2009, and will have a secondary filled with aging veterans.
Nolan may have a hard time finding consistency on his defensive line, as rookie Robert Ayers, free agent signee Ronald Fields and Ryan McBean will make up the starters on the defensive line, while Jarvis Moss and Elvis Dumervil will have to transition from a 4-3 scheme to Nolan's 3-4 system with inside linebackers D.J. Williams and former Cleveland Brown Andra Davis manning the middle.
|Sun 9/13||at Cincinnati|
|Sun 9/27||at Oakland|
|Sun 10/11||New England|
|Mon 10/19||at San Diego|
|Sun 11/1||at Baltimore|
|Sun 11/15||at Washington|
|Sun 11/22||San Diego|
|Thu 11/26||NY Giants|
|Sun 12/6||at Kansas City|
|Sun 12/13||at Indianapolis|
|Sun 12/27||at Philadelphia|
|Sun 1/3||Kansas City|
|Sun 12/27||Tampa Bay|
|Sun 1/3||at Carolina|
It's extremely rare for a first year coach to instantly be on the so called 'hot seat' but that's what Josh McDaniels was able to do for himself this offseason for his domino effect of negative decisions.
The Broncos finished 2008 with one of the best offenses in football, in large part due to their rising star at quarterback Jay Cutler, but they missed the playoffs due to one of the worst defenses in recent memory.
So instead of repairing that, McDaniels decided to tempt fate and see if he could quietly move Jay Cutler to another team in exchange for someone more familiar with his offense in Matt Cassel.
The move, as many know, blew up in his face and now the Broncos have a totally different look to them. Kyle Orton is a decent quarterback with a steady rushing attack and a very good defense, but the Broncos had neither of those things in 2008 and it's unclear if rookie Knowshon Moreno will be able to give them a rushing game in 2009 with no legit threat at quarterback and Brandon Marshall being the latest player wanting out.
And with a great amount of draft picks at his disposal, McDaniels spent only one of those selections on a defensive lineman who arguably isn't even a fit for the scheme they will be transitioning into in 2009 - and he also acquired a 5-foot-9 nickel back for a first round pick in next years draft, a draft that figures to be heavy at the positions Denver is very weak at.
It's unfathomable how bad a first offseason Josh McDaniels has had, and barring the greatest defensive coaching job since Buddy Ryan, the regular season will be just as long and just as bad for the Denver Broncos.
The only question that remains is.. how much time will Josh McDaniels have to repair this?
Predicted Finish: 4-12, 3rd place AFC West