The Broncos were able to win the Super Bowl last season on the strength of the defense. Though the Denver defense has allowed just three touchdowns during December, the offense just can’t seem to get it done.
Players are discouraged, and in the locker room, frustrations are running high.
Following Denver’s 16-3 loss at home to the New England Patriots, tensions erupted between veteran offensive tackle Russell Okung and defensive back Aqib Talib, according to NFL Media’s Mike Silver. This sparked a confrontation between the defensive backs and offensive line.
Head coach Gary Kubiak had to intervene before it got out of hand.
On Monday, Okung told Mike Klis of Denver’s 9 News that he and Talib had talked through the incident.
Russell Okung said he and Aqib Talib spoke today about postgame disagreement. "We made amends,'' Okung said. #9sports— Mike Klis (@MikeKlis) December 19, 2016
The frustration in the locker room is a byproduct of a stagnant offense and preventable mistakes that are compromising Denver’s playoff chances.
"Man, we've been in desperation mode since the Saints [game]," cornerback Chris Harris said via DenverBroncos.com. "We're just losing them."
Denver dropped an overtime game to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12, and couldn’t come back against the Tennessee Titans in Week 14. This week against the Patriots, the defense limited New England’s prolific offense to just 16 points, but the Broncos’ offense could only answer with a single field goal.
Safety T.J. Ward pointed out that it’s unusual to hold the Patriots and Tom Brady to just 16 points and still lose.
"Any time we hold Brady to 16 points, we expect to win,” Ward said. “Even last year, we never held him to 16. And he didn't complete any passes in the first quarter. We have to do better."
Cornerback Kayvon Webster echoed that sentiment.
"I can't believe that shit,” Webster said. “We held Brady to 16 and still lose? Has that ever happened?”
Head coach Gary Kubiak pointed to the offensive mistakes as a factor.
“We had some big drops in the game that could have been the difference in us continuing to move the ball late in the second quarter and the third quarter,” Kubiak said. "We didn’t make them."
Kubiak wasn’t blameless, either. His poor clock management at the end of the first half was a disadvantage for the Broncos against the Patriots.
Turnovers have been a factor in the team’s offensive struggles. Against the Titans, the Broncos had two turnovers, one of which ended a potential game-tying drive. On Sunday, the Broncos turned the ball over three times to the Patriots.
"When you kill yourselves with two early turnovers, and you're not pointing up points, it's hard to win games. That's point-blank period," said safety T.J. Ward. "That's what we've been doing the last two weeks and have two Ls on that side of the column."
Ward certainly didn’t help his team when he got flagged for unnecessary roughness against Julian Edelman. It was a foolish penalty, and one the Broncos couldn’t afford.
Denver is 8-6 and will have to win out for its best chance at the postseason, and Kubiak knows it.
"I can’t sit here and tell you what all the scenarios are, but if we don’t find a way to win 10 games, we’re not going to have an opportunity," Kubiak said. "We all understand that. We’ve all understood that from the get-go."
Kubiak acknowledged the friction between his players on Monday.
The Broncos have a tough road ahead in the last two games of the regular season. Denver will face the 10-4 Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16, and they finish the season against the AFC West-leading 11-3 Oakland Raiders.