On the Naughty List: Denver Broncos Collapsing Again, But...

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On the Naughty List: Denver Broncos Collapsing Again, But...
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It's a scene that would drive any kid absolutely nuts. 

You are on your best behavior all year and yet when Christmas rolls around, there's a big ol' lump of coal sitting under the tree. Again.  You tried your absolute best to be a good boy or girl, yet in the end it's the same results as previous years.

This feeling is shared by Broncos fans all over the world as the 2009 NFL regular season enters its penultimate week.  We tried our best.  We stood by our team during one of the most turbulent offseasons any franchise has endured in recent memory and it's basically "second verse, same as the first" except this time with a different melody.

Everything is different about this Broncos team this year.  A new general manager, head coach, starting quarterback and defensive scheme. The team was expected to struggle and compete for a top ten draft pick.

The results? The team has been more competitive than expected, but lately this version of the Broncos seems eerily familiar to last year's, except they lost the division title much earlier.  This season the Broncos stood at 8-4 and seemingly had a stranglehold on one of the two AFC wild card spots.  Life seemed great despite the Broncos struggling after a scintillating 6-0 start.

Then it started happening. Again.

The Broncos have now lost two in row, one to the undefeated Colts in which it looked like the Broncos might just pull off the upset and the other to the pathetic Oakland Raiders led by JaMarcus Russell in a last minute comeback.  I still can't believe I just typed that last sentence. That one will hurt for a long time.

The Broncos now have quite a battle on their hands for the AFC's final wild card spot.  It's possible to clinch this week, but first they have a very tall order beating the Eagles in Philadelphia and then they need the Steelers, Dolphins, Jets, and Jaguars all to lose.  It's possible as the aforementioned teams all face playoff caliber teams this week. Then again, the Broncos probably face the toughest test of all in playing the red hot Eagles. 

The point is the Broncos have no business being in this position.  Had they won the easily winnable games against the Redskins and Raiders, they'd likely have a playoff position wrapped up and could rest their key players to make a run in the postseason.  Once again with the Broncos, they have a severe case of "woulda, coulda, shoulda."

To a Broncos fan, it's like being stuck in the Twilight Zone.  One year ago, the team had a three game lead over the Chargers with three to go and all they needed to do was win ONE of their final three games, including one at home to the Raiders, and the AFC West would be theirs.  Again, "second verse, same as the first."

If the team misses the postseason this year, it is highly doubtful Josh McDaniels loses his job unlike what happened to Mike Shanahan last year.  This is McDaniels' first year trying the change the culture of an entire organization that had gotten stuck in neutral the past few years.  Overnight miracles were not expected.

Indeed, McDaniels has given Broncos fans much hope this year despite recent struggles.  Given the amount of roster turnover this season, the fact that the Broncos are currently even competing to make the postseason shows promise. 

The Broncos weren't expected to win much more than five games and the Broncos had that matched by week five.  I've even told people that if the Broncos finish 8-8 I'd be content considering how bad things looked this summer.

Would it be disappointing to miss the playoffs this year after such a great start to the season? Absolutely. As Herm Edwards so eloquently put it,  "You play to win the game! You don't play it to just play it." It would be a darn shame to see the team miss the postseason after the season started with such promise.

Now, I have been as pessimistic in this column as I have been all year, but I still hold out hope for the future. Think about it. If McDaniels was this good this year, his first as an NFL head coach, think of how good he will be the next few seasons as he learns from his mistakes and continues to get personnel in place that fit his system. 

This team will be better next season.  I have no doubt about that.  What seemed like a multi-year rebuilding project is now just a matter of putting the pieces together.  The Broncos are much further ahead than anyone thought they would be at this point, playoffs or not.

Who knows? Maybe instead of coal yet again next year, Broncos fans will get the best kind of Christmas present, one that doesn't arrive until February: the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Besides, you think coal is bad this year?  Think of what Jay Cutler has under his tree this year.  Use your imagination on that one.

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