ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Rumors went back and forth throughout the day on Sunday, and at 10:22 a.m. MST on Monday morning, Denver Broncos general manager John Elway put out the only statement on Vance Joseph that mattered: the embattled head coach will return for a second season on the job.
“We believe in Vance as a head coach,” Elway tweeted. “Together, we’ll put in the work to improve in all areas and win in 2018.”
Retaining Joseph was what most of the locker room wanted.
“Most definitely,” running back C.J. Anderson said before Elway’s announcement when asked about the possibility of Joseph returning. “Coming in with a veteran locker room and talent, I think it’s on us as players. We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain to help (Joseph) and all the coaches. I definitely hope he gets a second chance.
“I can promise you, sitting right here, you can put it on record — if he does get a second chance, we will not be 5-11. We won’t have a losing season.”
Everything came apart for the Broncos after a 3-1 start that had them thinking that the 2017 season would end in the postseason and with a sixth consecutive winning campaign.
Instead, the Broncos came out of their Week 5 bye with a thud, enduring their longest losing streak in a half-century, plagued by turnovers, inefficient quarterback play and an inability to stop opponents’ momentum.
Nine of their 12 losses were by double digits, including the first six defeats of that half-season skid that took the Broncos out of the running.
Few of their players knew what such a run of futility felt like, having been accustomed to winning seasons and Super Bowls.
“Brock (Osweiler) said something that hit me, ” Anderson said. “He said, ‘Now we know what it feels like to have a bad NFL season. We know what it feels like, we know what it looks like, we know what’s involved with it, how does it get there — we know. So now that we know and we’ve seen it, we can nip it in the bud.
“I think it was hard for all of us to get a grasp of it and change it during the season, because a lot of us had never seen it. A lot of us had played here. You had other vets who came from other situations, that their team wasn’t winning, but when they got here, they got adapted to winning. So we’ve just got to get back to doing what we do best, and that’s winning games and trying to win championships.”
Part of that is by identifying issues when they arise.
“I think you talk to certain players that are having those moments or having those tough stretches early, before it gets bigger,” Anderson said. “Like Isaiah (McKenzie), dropping six punts and then having a fumble. You get on him on the second punt he muffed. The first punt, you might let him pass. After the second one, you start letting him know, that’s not how you do things.
“You find a way to talk to your quarterbacks, to say, ‘Hey, what are you looking at here? What are you reading here?’ and let them tell you what’s going through their head so you can see how you can help them so you don’t see us throwing into double coverage, triple coverage.”
But it is at quarterback where change is likely to rock the roster first. Other areas could be primed for an overhaul, but it starts at a position where the Broncos had the second-lowest team-wide passer rating, second-worst touchdown-to-interception margin (minus-3) — in each case, better than only the lowly Browns — and the fewest passes of 40 or more yards of any team this season (three).
Joseph survived a frustrating first year. But if they don’t fix the quarterback position, he may not last beyond a second.
–As of Monday afternoon, all signs pointed to Bill Musgrave staying on as offensive coordinator after six games handling the position on an interim basis.
The Broncos averaged 16.5 points per game after Musgrave replaced the dismissed Mike McCoy — 0.4 points fewer than they did in 10 games with McCoy calling the plays.
But the offense played cleaner football, focusing on its strengths in the ground game and cutting its turnovers from 2.3 per game to 1.8, although giveaways remained a problem, with three-turnover games in losses to Miami in Week 13 and Kansas City in Week 17.
Musgrave called runs more often — on 44.5 percent of the snaps, compared to 41.3 under McCoy — and the Broncos had their best consecutive rushing weeks under Musgrave, racking up 370 yards in Week 15 and 16 games against Indianapolis and Washington.
The emphasis on the ground game helped C.J. Anderson surge at the finish to his first career 1,000-yard season.
“Billy is a hell of an (offensive coordinator), he’s been doing this for a very long time,” Anderson said. “I wouldn’t say super improvements or better, I mean he just went with certain player’s strengths and tried to involve that. I think if you give him a full season he might feature guys depending on who those guys are on this team.”
But that said, Anderson felt McCoy was “the same way.”
“Mike will out-scheme you,” Anderson said. “We just didn’t execute for Mike. We had a chance to get some wins and execute for Billy; that’s just the difference between the two. If we had executed for Mike, we’re talking about how well Mike did this year.
“That’s just how the business goes.”
For whoever returns on the offense, continuity is a key.
“It would be huge. Getting a starting unit put together and having those guys rep an offense with the same plays over and over and over starting in April all the way through training camp. That’s huge.
“Like I said, you have to hard wire the fundamentals of each play into your body and into your brain in order to have success on the field come fall.”
–While head coach Vance Joseph kept his job, the axe fell on a slew of assistant coaches Monday — including the staff’s two longest-tenured members.
By mid-afternoon, offensive line coach Jeff Davidson, running backs coach Eric Studesville, wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert and special-teams coordinator Brock Olivo had all been informed of their dismissals.
The decision to fire Olivo came as no surprise after his special-teams units struggled with mental, organizational and execution errors. Penalties — including two delay-of-game infractions late in the season — plagued the unit.
Studesville’s departure ended an eight-season run that began with his hiring by then-head coach Josh McDaniels and included a four-game stint as interim head coach late in the 2010 season. He returned to his position as running backs coach after John Fox was hired in 2011, and was promoted to assistant head coach last year.
Tolbert, who guided Demaryius Thomas to five consecutive 1,000-yard seasons from 2012-16, had been on the staff since Fox’s arrival, having come with him from the Carolina Panthers.
NOTES: WR Demaryius Thomas’ quest for his sixth consecutive 1,000-yard season ended 51 yards shy of the milestone. Thomas’ last catch of the year — and also the Broncos’ last offensive play of the season — was a 6-yard touchdown grab from Paxton Lynch in the fourth quarter Sunday. … WR Jordan Taylor finished the season with 142 yards on 13 catches after posting career highs in receptions (six) and yards (65) in extensive playing time in the season finale. … RB De’Angelo Henderson posted the first regular-season touchdown of his career, scoring on a 29-yard pass from Paxton Lynch in the second quarter. … QB Trevor Siemian met the media Monday morning with his left arm in a sling. Siemian suffered a season-ending injury against the Colts in Week 14. He said he was unsure whether he would need surgery at some point. … WR Emmanuel Sanders sat out the season finale because of a high-ankle sprain that had been bothering him since he suffered it in Week 6. Sanders finished the season with his lowest catch, yardage and touchdown totals since 2012. … S Darian Stewart intercepted a Patrick Mahomes pass Sunday and finished the season with three interceptions, giving him the team lead for the second consecutive year. He shared that honor with Aqib Talib last season, but held it for himself in 2017.