DENVER -- Even before Noah Fant spoke Thursday, the statistics screamed about an increasingly uncomfortable problem.
The offense, yet again, is not carrying its weight, leading to emotions spilling over from defensive players on the field and in the locker room. The Broncos enter Sunday, a must-win game if the team wants to rejoin the playoff race, as a 2.5-point underdog to the Los Angeles Chargers. They Broncos rank 28th in points per game (19.3), 29th in third down conversions, 30th in red zone in touchdown percentage and 31st in turnover margin.
The Broncos offense insisted this year would be different. So far, they remain a cliche.
"I don't have a bad attitude about it. But I am definitely not happy with the results we have right now. It's unacceptable. We want to be better. You look at the numbers and we are not living up to our potential," said tight end Noah Fant on Tuesday. "We have so much potential and talent. We have to figure out how to make things to work. I am still positive about it. But at some point, 'it's put up or shut up,' right? It's time to buckle down and get it going."
Much of the scrutiny focuses on quarterback Drew Lock. He played the worst game of his nine-game career in Sunday's debacle against the Chiefs. Lock admitted, "I have to play better, and I will." Teammates have openly supported Lock even as tempers reached a flash point in the loss.
Shelby Harris got into it with special teams standout Joe Jones after the kick off return for a touchdown, and appeared to yell at Melvin Gordon after his botched flea-flicker toss. Bradley Chubb also showed frustration after a Chiefs touchdown.
"It was just passion, man. Passion. Losing to your supposed rival (43-16), that's not what you want to do. That's not football, that's not fun. I want to get all the guys around me and be one of the guys that changes this losing we have been doing the past couple of years," said Chubb, who has taken on more of a leadership role following Von Miller's ankle injury before the season.
"I am trying to be the catalyst and I have guys around me trying to do the same thing as well. It's not going to happen over night, it's not going to happen by guys letting things go unsaid. I have to be the one of the guys that steps up, gets animated and shows people how much I care."
The Broncos are reaching a crossroads. Chubb told me that the team remains unified. But fragility can emerge if the team does not start playing complementary football. As the Broncos failed to reach the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, two splintered along defensive and offensive lines. That did not happen in coach Vic Fangio's first season. However, Joe Flacco called out the conservative offensive philosophy after a loss to the Colts, and reports of friction between Fangio and his offensive coaches surfaced.
Fangio fired Rich Scangarello, a first-time playcaller, and hired the veteran Pat Shurmur, who brought a track record of success. It has not translated because of a injuries to Courtland Sutton, Phllip Lindsay, Lock and Fant and ineffective playcalling.
The final 10 games, as such, take on added importance. Can the offense gain traction and become more productive with added weapons Jerry Jeudy, K.J. Hamler and Albert Okwuegbunam? The group is young, but lacks an identity. The one thing they have done well over the past three games is run the football, rushing for 429 yards on 106 carries and three TDs. It seems a good place to start as the offense tries to plant roots and blossom.
The problem is Lindsay remains in the concussion protocol, and Melvin Gordon has plummeted from grace with a thud, including two fumbles last Sunday.
“Ball security is something that we talk about all the time. Obviously, he got it stripped from him once yesterday and then was involved with the flea flicker play that didn’t come off good," coach Vic Fangio said. "So, yes, it’s been stressed, and it will continue to be stressed."
The players are growing tired of losing. They are determined to change it. But nothing they say matters. As Fant admitted, it's time to prove it.
With Mike Purcell lost for the season with a foot injury, the Broncos will sign Sylvester Williams back to the active roster from the practice squad. Williams, a former first-round pick, made a key tackle in one of his seven snaps in the win over the Patriots. ...
Special teams issues remain for the Broncos. In three of their four losses, they had gaffes: a dropped snap on a punt in the end zone against the Steelers, a blocked punt vs. Tampa Bay and a kickoff return allowed for a touchdown by the Chiefs. "We’ve had too many negative plays in the kicking game this year. We’ve got to do a better job of covering. Guys have to be able to beat the blocks in space one on one and we’ve got to come off blocks. There’s no doubt about that. Our special teams play overall and the coverage unit hasn’t been good enough when you look at the total picture. That’s an area that we’ll continue to work on and hopefully get better here soon," Fangio said.