PHILADELPHIA — The Denver Broncos came to Philadelphia with their season unraveling. Their desperation was so great that they were turning to Brock Osweiler, their prodigal son of a quarterback, as their starter and asking him to save their season against the team with the NFL’s best record.
The results were predictably ugly.
By day’s end, the competitive portion of the Broncos’ season was all but done. Their problems were more widespread than their quarterback dilemma. And they were licking their figurative wounds from a spirit-crushing 51-23 defeat to the Eagles on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
“You’re always learning,” Osweiler said afterward. “The more game experience you get, the better you’re going to get. So that’s where we are.”
Is it a problem that John Elway probably still could outplay every quarterback on the Broncos’ roster?
That is overstating things, of course. But Elway has not had his usual golden touch, as the Broncos’ Hall of Fame quarterback turned Super Bowl-winning roster architect, with his post-Peyton-Manning quarterback moves or with this season’s version of his Denver team.
Elway and the Broncos failed to re-sign Osweiler following a 2015 season in which Manning reclaimed his job from Osweiler for the playoffs and was led by the powerful Denver defense to a Super Bowl title. Osweiler signed a big-money deal in Houston, was a bust last season for the Texans, was traded to Cleveland and returned to the Broncos as a backup this season after being released by the Browns.
The Broncos made former seventh-round draft choice Trevor Siemian their starter. He had some decent moments last season but hasn’t been the answer in 2017. Second-year pro Paxton Lynch, a first-round pick last year, hurt his shoulder during the preseason and hasn’t been available to take over. Tony Romo opted for retirement and the CBS broadcast booth last offseason rather than exploring job opportunities in Denver and Houston.
So Coach Vance Joseph turned last week to Osweiler, benched Siemian, and hoped for the best.
That’s not what he got. Far, far from it. Osweiler threw two interceptions Sunday in a 19-for-38, 208-yard passing performance. He had a passer rating of 53.4. He did throw a fourth-quarter touchdown pass, but by then, the Broncos were facing a 44-9 deficit.
“When they did have to drop back and pass, we had people in the quarterback’s face,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “We’ve got guys on the back end that can make plays. That always plays to our advantage when teams have to play us one-handed. That’s really been the formula all year: Stop the run. Make people pass the ball against us. Guys on the back end are making plays on the ball. Up front, they’re getting pressure and getting sacks. If we continue that formula, it obviously puts us in a great spot for every game.”
Osweiler was asked about the most frustrating part of his performance and said: “Losing.”
Why was that?
“Because we play this game to win,” he said.
But Osweiler’s misery had plenty of company. The Eagles, in upping their record to 8-1, embarrassed the usually formidable Broncos defense. Quarterback Carson Wentz boosted his league MVP candidacy by throwing four touchdown passes. He had three of them six minutes into the second quarter. Tailback Jay Ajayi, obtained last week in a trade-deadline deal with the Miami Dolphins, raced for a 46-yard touchdown on his fifth carry for the Eagles.
The Broncos’ record dropped to 3-5. They have lost four straight games since a 3-1 start. They surely aren’t catching the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West. Contending for even a wild-card playoff spot is becoming far-fetched. Thoughts now should be turning to merely regaining respectability. Lynch will be given a look as the starter at quarterback once he is physically ready and gets some practice experience. If that’s not immediately, Joseph will have to choose between sticking with Osweiler or going back to Siemian.
It very quickly has become a lost season for the Broncos. They can only hope that Sunday was the low point.
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