The Denver Broncos are a missed field goal away from going into their bye week feeling good. Not that 4-5 feels good, but a win in the NFL, the players and coaches say, is hard to get. It has been especially hard for Denver the past seven weeks.
But despite the 3-6 record, John Elway, president of football operations/general manager, said head coach Vance Joseph is not on the hot seat.
"At this point in time, we're going to stay the course," Elway told AM 760 in Denver on Monday. "I think there's enough good things that are going on as far as us and the way that we're playing ... I'm much more encouraged this year than I was last year."
Joseph was asked Monday if he is worried about his future with Denver. He is 8-17 since taking over after the 2016 season, and grumblings about his job security were growing.
“That’s not my concern right now — my future,” he said. “It’s about the players and the coaches and winning football games.”
Elway's comments on the radio on Monday will likely quiet speculation on Joseph's immediate future.
Still, the losing weighs heavy on the players.
“No, I’m not OK,” Chris Harris Jr. said Monday. “I’m about winning, so I’m not OK with it at all.”
Harris and the many of his teammates suffered through a nightmare 2017 season. The Broncos started 3-1 but had an eight-game losing streak and finished 5-11. This season started promising but Denver has lost six of its last seven.
The line between a winning record and an empty season has been a fine line. Denver was 2-0, lost at Baltimore (which is not necessarily a tragic thing) but had a chance to go to 3-1 against AFC West Division rival Kansas City on Oct. 1.
Denver led that game by 10 entering the fourth quarter but couldn’t stop Patrick Mahomes, who engineered two touchdown drives. Despite that, the Broncos were in prime position to win until quarterback Case Keenum overthrew a wide open Demaryius Thomas near the goal line in the waning seconds.
Then came Sunday. Facing Thomas, just traded to Houston, the Broncos had a chance to win it. They drove to the Houston 32 with 23 seconds left and one timeout in their pocket. Instead of trying to gain more yards to make it a closer field goal attempt, head coach Vance Joseph opted to run it to the middle of the field and a 51-yard attempt with 3 seconds left.
The sure-footed Brandon McManus, who missed a 62-yarder at the end of the half, was wide left.
Two plays, two empty results are all that separate Denver from 5-4 instead of 3-6.
Joseph said he didn’t want to risk Keenum getting sacked and losing yards or fumbling.
“A penalty or sack, sack-fumble, something—we’ve got the yards we need to win the football game, so why even chance going backwards? Why chance a tipped ball? Let’s go win the game,” Joseph said.
Elway agreed with Joseph's strategy.
"The last thing we wanted to [do] was make a mistake and go backwards," Elway said on AM 760. "In that situation we were there and we didn't want to take any chances."
It was sound in theory but poor in execution, but the players, like Elway, aren't giving up on the season — or Joseph.
“No one has the thought of throwing in the towel, thinking about next year or thinking about offseason,” guard Connor McGovern said. “Everybody wants to win as many games as possible, and we’re going to keep working hard, keep showing up to practice and like Vance says, ‘It’s hard-pressed to find anybody that practices harder than we do.”
BIG LOSS: Center Matt Paradis’ snap streak ended Sunday, and it will be a while before he starts a new one. Joseph said the reliable offensive lineman is out for the year after breaking his left leg and tearing ligaments against the Texans.
“He’s going to IR,” Joseph said. “His surgery is going to be scheduled probably end of the week or next week once the swelling goes down. Tough loss for us.”
Joseph said McGovern will move to center and either Eli Wilkinson or Billy Turner will slide in at guard.
Paradis had played in 3,850 consecutive snaps to start his career before Sunday. He played through injury and was the stalwart on a line that dealt with consistency and injury for the past four seasons.
He’s the iron man, none of us ever thought that something like this would happen to Matt,” McGovern said. “You’ve just got to try to replace him as best you can. I know I’m not Matt Paradis, but I’m going to do my best to fill the gap that is left.”