The crowd arrived with the anticipation of witnessing a new beginning. The Broncos held their season in their hands. Then, they fell flat on their faces.
Given the time, place, and meaning, Thursday's loss ranked as the most embarrassing this year. It fits snugly into the past eye-rolling defeats to the Giants, Jets, Dolphins, Patriots and 49ers over the past three seasons. It stung because it offered a chance for Denver to reclaim relevance in the AFC West. Instead, it showed the widening gap between the Broncos and the Chiefs, the class of the division and owners of eight straight wins over Denver.
I asked coach Vic Fangio his message to fans who booed loudly and often at Empower Field at Mile High and to those who woke up angry and frustrated Friday.
"With that performance, they have every right to boo. We probably deserved it," Fangio said. "It's a loyal fan base and one that I have grown quickly to appreciate. We're doing everything we can to get this fixed as soon as possible."
It starts with the underwhelming offense. The Broncos average 16 points per game, ahead of only Washington (15), the Jets (12.6) and Miami (8.4). They have scored 22 over their last eight quarters. They permitted nine sacks Thursday as quarterback Joe Flacco looked uncomfortable in the pocket and untrusting -- understandably so -- of his offensive line. Fangio told me he was not considering a change at the position -- and frankly there is no alternative that makes sense until rookie Drew Lock begins practicing and proves over the next month he deserves a look.
What did Fangio think, I inquired, about Hall of Fame player and Fox broadcaster Troy Aikman's criticism of Flacco lacking energy and urgency as the Broncos' dissolved before our eyes?
"That is Joe. Like I think I told you guys before, when things are going good, he's like that. He's Joe Cool," Fangio said. "When things are going bad, it's a lack of intensity, it's a lack of enthusiasm. I think that's just continue to be the dialogue as it relates to Joe Flacco."
A tinkering of the offensive line remains expected. With veteran Ja'wuan James set to return at right tackle, Elijah Wilkinson becomes an option to replace struggling Garett Bolles on the left side. Officials flagged Bolles for three holding penalties against the Chiefs -- he continues to struggle to keep his hands inside while blocking -- giving him a league-high nine this season.
Is Bolles still the starter?
"He is right now, yes," said Fangio, adding, "I talked to him after the game, obviously, and I asked what went wrong and how were those calls, and he explained them to me. He's got just keep fighting through it."
If James' sprained left knee responds to practice next week, however, the Broncos could -- and at this point should -- sit Bolles. Fangio mentioned that Bolles' problems traced back to poor technique, his lack of consistency jarring even under the tutelage of prized offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Fangio said he has not talked with general manager John Elway about possibly trading veterans -- the most coveted will likely be Chris Harris Jr. and Emmanuel Sanders. For now, the plan is simple: go back to work and try to fix a cache of issues.
"I think the (players) are grinders. They have been up to this point," Fangio said. "And we will be as a staff."
Tight end Noah Fant suffered through the worst performance of his career, dropping three passes. Multiple teammates rallied around him with the rookie looking as if he was suffering a crisis of confidence. "We just need to keep coaching him. All he needs to do is come up with a couple of those catches and his confidence will be better. He'll start to soar, but we're going to keep playing him. He's a young player. It's our job to develop players and the only way you develop players is to play them." ... Safety Will Parks will be sidelined roughly a week with a broken left thumb. ... Yes, the Broncos practiced the fake punt. No they didn't run it correctly, Fangio said. "We needed a better fake which did not get carried out. I think we panicked."