DENVER — After 32 years as an NFL assistant, Vic Fangio landed his first coaching job in Denver because of his defensive prowess.
Saturday, the Broncos attempted one final defense of their coach, but it only wrapped a bow on this season of disappointment.
The Chiefs rallied for a 28-24 victory.
"I do not know what's going to happen," Fangio said about his future. "I will be good. I think the foundation is there for this franchise to close the gap. I am proud to be associated with our players. They are fighters. Our record isn't good enough. But I am proud to be associated with them."
Saturday represented a 13th consecutive loss to Kansas City. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes improved to 9-0 against the Broncos and 13-0 on the road in the AFC West.
Fangio boasts a 19-30 record and has one year remaining on his contract. He volunteered to return without a contract extension two weeks ago. The Broncos fans expressed their disappointment with a season-high 14,571 no-shows.
Fangio, 63, is the first Broncos coach to average 10 losses per season, yet it has not been easy for general manager George Paton, who is responsible for the decision.
The two have a strong working relationship, but the numbers make standing pat difficult to reconcile. Fangio talked with Paton this week, and it's almost certain he promised changes with offense and special teams coaches.
While his defense remained stout statistically, ranking in the top five for most of the season in points allowed, there were too many catastrophic moments across the board. A pair in the fourth quarter captured this season.
Leading 21-20 with 7:45 remaining and the ball at the 9, Melvin Gordon took the handoff. And the game was lost. And not because of him.
Sure he fumbled, but he suffered a version of a blindside sack. Chiefs linebacker Melvin Ingram raced unblocked — it was a blown assignment by one of the tight ends, likely Albert Okwuegbunam — and smashed into Gordon. The ball hit the turf and linebacker Nick Bolton scooped and scored, zooming 86 yards for a touchdown. A two-point conversion shoved Kansas City ahead 28-21.
"I have to be better," said Gordon, who finished with 110 yards on 12 carries, and was emotional walking off the field, knowing it might have been his last game as a Bronco. "I didn't really see him."
On the Broncos' next drive, Fangio drew ire for his decision to kick a field goal on fourth-and-9 from the 13-yard line with 4:45 left. It shaved the deficit to 28-24, but required a touchdown to win. It made little sense. The Broncos never saw the ball again.
"The foundation is here," insisted quarterback Drew Lock, who impersonated Tim Tebow with two rushing touchdowns, and completed 12 of 24 passes for 162 yards. "There are a lot leaders in the locker room. I hope I am part of the foundation, but that's not my decision."
The Broncos began the game as a cliche. Punter Sam Martin pinned the Chiefs at the 9-yard line. It created more stats to inflate. The Chiefs plodded 91 yards on 17 plays, spanning 7 minutes, 49 seconds. Mahomes capped it with a 3-yard score to Travis Kelce. Mahomes finished 27 of 44 for 270 yards as the Chiefs won for the ninth time in 10 games.
The Broncos responded, ignited by Lock's legs and a roughing the punter call on Martin, who celebrated like a WWE champion. At halftime Lock had 27 yards passing and 35 rushing. He scooted for two scores, one from 5 yards and another from 23.
"I showed I could run around today," Lock said. The Broncos led at halftime, and were inspired by Justin Simmons' expletive-filled speech by the team's best player. "We played our (butts) off."
But they couldn't conclude the drill. It made it more painful when Gordon burst 47 yards for a score to make it 21-17. It was his longest run since the opening day 70 yard jaunt.
This, though, is a team that operates with no margin for error, that cannot overcome a huge mistake. Fangio insists that the Broncos are close. But he did not make a compelling case to be the one to lead them across the finish line.
Everything was set up for this team to become relevant again. They had an easy schedule. They were relatively healthy, they built a cushion with a 3-0 start and were 7-6 with all their goals in front of them. The 4-10 record over the last 14 games revealed a team that competes, but cannot beat good opponents. Of their seven wins, five came against the Giants, Jaguars, Jets, Washington and Lions. Fangio lost his final four games, mirroring Vance Joseph's slide in 2018 that cost him his job.
Only two teams have missed the playoffs the past six seasons: the Broncos and Jets.
"I can sum it up in two words: it sucks," tackle Garett Bolles said. "This is the closest group I have been around in five years. It's frustrating. We have a great GM in George Paton who is going to turn this around. I promise you all it's going to be a lot different next year."
Now the heavy lifting begins. There should be clarity on the ownership issue soon as the right-of-first-refusal trial with the Kaiser family concludes. The expectation remains that the team will be sold. President John Elway is departing and CEO Joe Ellis will retire following the ownership transition.
The first move involves the head coach. Paton is thoughtful and detailed, and it will be his decision on Fangio. In the end, the losses, the lacking postseason and the no-shows will make it difficult not to move on.
"I want to start with an apology to Broncos Country," Simmons said. "My goal is to get us back to where this organization is used to. It doesn't mean much right now, but it will down the road when we get there."