DENVER — His mantra mocks him. Broncos coach Vic Fangio arrived with a "Death by Inches" guide to football.
However, the inability to execute the little things — and sometimes bigger things — has left the Broncos incapable of playing winning football.
Monday, Fangio admitted "it's been the indication all along" from upper management that he will return for his third season in 2021. That was expected. That it became a conversation on social media and in press conferences speaks to the disappointment of a 12-19 record, and zero games spent above at .500 in two seasons.
The Broncos are 5-10 this year.
"They (losses) are all equally tough. Every one eats at you in different ways for different reasons," Fangio said. "But a loss is a loss and they suck."
I asked Fangio what needs to change in 2021, making the playoffs a realistic goal.
"We have to make a lot of improvements, obviously. We need to get healthy. We have to improve as players and coaches. We are all in this together," Fangio said. "I have said many times that players and coaches are teammates and we have to improve in those areas. We have to make the plays when they are there to be made. We have to call good plays. We have to execute better."
Fangio makes no excuses for injuries and COVID-19 issues, but, in fairness, the Broncos were hit harder than most this season.
Their most accomplished defensive player -- Von Miller -- missed the year with a dislocated ankle tendon. And their top returning offensive player -- Courtland Sutton -- played 31 snaps before tearing his ACL. Throw in the absences of defensive linemen Jurrell Casey (three games played) and Mike Purcell (six games) and top corners A.J. Bouye (seven games) and Bryce Callahan (10 games), and it's easy to see why Denver has its nose pressed up against the playoff window pane for the fifth consecutive year.
"But there are no asterisks," safety Justin Simmons admitted a few weeks ago. "Nobody cares."
The team had little margin for error without a crowded training room. Still, it does not excuse other issues that have left this team staring at the contenders through a telescope.
The Broncos rank dead last in turnover margin at minus-20. The next closest team is San Francisco at minus-10. Quarterback Drew Lock, while showing improvement over the last month, has committed a turnover in 11 straight games, and is tied for the most interceptions with 15. His lack of consistency has raised the realistic possibility that the Broncos will bring in a veteran to compete with him next season -- potential options could include, but are not limited to, Andy Dalton, Jacoby Brissett, Gardner Minshew and Mitchell Trubisky.
"I have not lost my enthusiasm for Drew at all. I think he can become a good quarterback," Fangio said.
The Broncos rank tied for 31st in takeaways with 12, knotted with the Lions. Only the Texans have fewer with eight. Nobody turns it over more or gets it back less than the Broncos. This is a huge problem. Denver has 29 takeaways in 31 games under Fangio. His last Bears team had 36 in 16 games.
The roster has been undermanned at different points. But the Broncos need better, pure and simple.
”I just think you have to keep practicing, put the players in those situations, and be able to convert them and make them when they come," said Fangio on making more winning plays. "We’ve got to be able to carry from the practice field to the game."
The Broncos need improvement at multiple positions defensively, including cornerback and possibly at coverage linebacker. The return of Miller would enhance a pass rush that includes Pro Bowler Bradley Chubb and Malik Reed, who share the team lead with 7.5 sacks.
However, Miller's future remains uncertain. He is scheduled to make $18 million next season, and his club option must be exercised by March 17, which guarantees him $7 million. Will he return at full price or a paycut? For a team desperate to return to the postseason, I haven't ruled out the sides finding a compromise.
A healthy Sutton would also help Lock's development -- or whoever is the quarterback -- and take some pressure off rookie Jerry Jeudy, who has shown flashes of brilliance, but dropped five passes in Sunday's loss.
"It's unacceptable," Jeudy lamented, his slump amplified by his own tweet critical of not receiving the ball enough against Kansas City.
Sutton provides leadership in the receiver room. Jeudy has 47 catches for 716 yards and two touchdowns. Teammates and coaches alike believe Jeudy will rebound from the worst game of his life.
"He's too good to hang his head," Lock said.
Added Fangio, "I think he will come out of this and be a better receiver because of it."
Will the same be true for the team? There are plenty of reasons why the Broncos are irrelevant right now, but will this front office and Fangio find solutions so this conversation is not repeated at the end of next season?
Chubb has not been ruled out of the season finale because of an ankle injury. But there is no guarantee he plays. ...
Defensive end Shelby Harris thanked the team for his charter flight Sunday that helped him return to Colorado in time for the birth of his fourth child, a son. ...