ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have started their second consecutive season 0-3, and coach Vic Fangio is now 0-for-September (0-7) in his tenure.
Thankfully, the calendar flips to October just in time for the team's matchup on Thursday night against the New York Jets (8:20 p.m. ET, NFL). September is over for the Broncos, but the team's second consecutive stumble out of the gate can be traced to two major items -- they don't bounce back when they trail after the first quarter and they haven't won the close ones.
"At some point, each player at each position and every guy has to put their foot down and tell themselves, 'We're going to make a difference, we're going to make a change'," is how running back Melvin Gordon put it even before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers dismantled the injury-riddled Broncos Sunday. "… It's not looking for other guys to make a play and slowly build momentum. You have to come out there knowing that this is what you want to do, this is what we need to do as a team and I'm going to be the guy to start this out. You want to be the guy. You don't want to look around for the guy to make plays -- you want to be the guy."
During Sunday's 28-10 loss, the Broncos' first punt of the game was blocked, gift-wrapping Tampa Bay's first score and leading to a 10-0 deficit after one quarter. The Broncos are now 1-7 in games when they trail after the first quarter since the start of the 2019 season, 5-4 when they lead after one quarter.
Since Fangio took over, the Broncos have lost six games by six or fewer points, lost four games by three or fewer points and let five fourth-quarter leads get away. In short, the Broncos are in the place that president of football operations/general manager John Elway has openly worried about. When losing erodes the attempts at winning, the "here we go again" rumble seems to plague the locker room and everyone starts gripping the bat way too tightly.
Kicker Brandon McManus is now the only player on the current active roster who has been in uniform for the Broncos in a playoff game. Defensive end Shelby Harris believes the team needs to simplify the approach.
"You've just got to go out there and pin your ears back and just play football," Harris said. "Let's get back to really just playing football. I'm not talking about playcalling or any of that, I'm talking about the freeness and individuality. Let's be free. Let's play some football and just get back to those times where all you do is just play football, eat and sleep and go home. Let's cut out all the outside noise. Everyone's oh-and-three this and oh-and-three that and a chance to go oh-and-four, we don't care. We're going to go out there and play football. We've got to go out there and play like we don't care about our record."
Let's be clear, however. The Broncos have gotten no favors from the football gods or the schedule maker.
Make an oh-so-short list of their best players, and five names on that list -- linebacker Von Miller, wide receiver Courtland Sutton, cornerback A.J. Bouye, running back Phillip Lindsay and quarterback Drew Lock -- were not in uniform Sunday because of injuries. Sutton is out for the year, Miller probably is. Then Monday, the Broncos got news that defensive tackle Jurrell Casey was diagnosed with a torn biceps and is expected to miss the remainder of the season.
The three teams the Broncos have played to this point are a combined 8-1 after Sunday's games. After their Thursday night game against the Jets (0-3), the Broncos go to New England (2-1) with the Chiefs then looming two weeks after that.
"It's all mental," wide receiver Tim Patrick said. "Football never changes. You've played this game your whole life and it doesn't really change. I feel like it gets mentally harder at each level you're at. That's just one of those hurdles that you need to get over. We're right there every single game, and honestly, I'm getting tired of saying it. We have to go in with the mentality of, 'F--- all that. We're going to win this next game.' No matter how it happens, we just need to win."