As the calendar flips to 2024, they’re the same bad news Broncos. Your beloved local NFL franchise is unfit for the playoffs, boring to watch and throwing quarterbacks against the wall, hoping something will stick.
Happy New Year, everyone!
On a Sunday when they were eliminated from the NFL playoffs for the eighth season in a row, what did we learn about the Broncos during their 16-9 defeat of the woeful and uninspired Los Angeles Chargers?
No. 1: Jarrett Stidham is Trevor Siemian with lesser skill and better hair.
No. 2: Despite being the smartest football man in any room he enters, Denver coach Sean Payton is generally no better at identifying new quarterback talent than our old pal John Elway was.
After benching Russell Wilson to give the offense a spark, the Broncos looked remarkably similar and almost as difficult to watch as any time during the past eight years, whether the quarterback in the huddle was Case Keenum or Paxton Lynch, or the man in charge of the sideline has been Vic Fangio or Nathaniel Hackett. The Denver defense did everything it could to win the game, while the offense should’ve been included in the stadium’s no-show count,
“As far as a spark,” Stidham said, “I’ll let others talk on that.”
Well, with one NFL victory now to his credit, “Sparky” Stidham is 11 months younger than Patrick Mahomes, shares the same year of birth as Josh Allen and Joe Burrow, but is older than AFC quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Trevor Lawrence, Tua Tagovailoa, C.J. Stroud and Justin Herbert.
His future’s so bright, “Sparky” has gotta wear shades.
Against the physically bruised and emotionally spent Chargers, Denver displayed the same red-zone ineptitude under Stidham that got Wilson on Payton’s naughty list. But Stidham did show a spark, even if it was only one.
While his 31 other passing attempts were generally unremarkable, Stidham did one piece of improvisation that reminded us of Wilson at his best. He stepped up in the pocket to avoid a blitz midway through the second quarter to hit teammate Lil’Jordan Humphrey for a beautiful 54-yard score that proved to be the lone touchdown in the game.
“I thought about taking off and running,” Stidham said. “I just saw (Humphrey) out of the corner of my eye and gave him a ball, and he made an incredible play.”
Maybe none of the 67,221 die-hards who showed up to Empower Field showed more enthusiasm for Stidham than Wilson, who congratulated his teammates as they celebrated Humphrey’s big play.
For those of you watching from home, maybe Wilson should be the inspiration for a drinking game, because the way we figure it, Wilson is now the NFL’s most recognizable celebrity cheerleader this side of Taylor Swift. The same franchise that has given us the bickering Bowlen kids and the worst contract extension in league history is known more for dysfunction inside team headquarters than success on the field.
Despite their victory, the Broncos’ final game of the regular season in Las Vegas will be meaningless, because victories by Kansas City and Pittsburgh on the last day of 2023 wiped out any chance of Denver either winning the AFC West or earning a wild-card berth.
“It is what it is.” Payton said. “I mean, look, we kind of had that opportunity (to win) a week ago and then ‘ugh.’”
But out with the old and in with the new, right?
We won’t mention the Broncos currently own only six picks in the next NFL draft, which gives them a decent chance of finding a dishwasher or a microwave in the later rounds, but little shot of filling all their needs, from linebacker to tight end.
Due to the salary cap fallout of cutting Wilson, the Broncos will have little wiggle room to add talent in free agency. They might also have to say goodbye to solid veterans Lloyd Cushenberry and Josey Jewell.
After trashing his relationship with Wilson, Payton must find anoint somebody to make all those X’s and O’s on his great, big playsheet look like genius.
Is it too early to declare the top three quarterbacks in franchise history as The Duke of Denver (Elway), The Sheriff (Manning) and Sparky (Stidham)?
I don’t want to be the first one in 2024 to tell you the Broncos will have no shot of making the playoffs again in the new year.
But if you believe Stidham is the answer for Denver at quarterback, then I’m hip, edgy and handsome.
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