Sean Payton has been an unmitigated disaster through two weeks

Sep 18, 2023, 4:00 AM | Updated: Sep 19, 2023, 11:11 am

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The Broncos are 0-2, after having home games against the Raiders and Commanders to start their season. It’s hard to imagine a way in which they dig out of this hole, especially considering the fact that only 14% of teams that lose their first two games of the season finish with a winning record and just 9% make the playoffs.

Denver’s streak on both fronts appears like it will remain intact. They haven’t had a winning record since 2016. They haven’t made the postseason since 2015, when they won Super Bowl 50.

Another season down the drain. And it’s only mid-September.

The blame will fall on Russell Wilson. He’s the quarterback. He makes the most money. He’s the guy in the crosshairs when things go wrong.

On Sunday, he made the error that everyone is going to point to as the turning point in the game. Leading 21-3, the Broncos had a chance to score again in the first half and bury the Commanders. But a Wilson fumble near midfield gave Washington life. And they capitalized.

While that moment might have been the play that changed the momentum, it hardly suggests that the quarterback was the reason why the Broncos lost the game. Wilson wasn’t great on Sunday, by any means, but he wasn’t Denver’s biggest issue.

Their defense was terrible. And their late-game management was embarrassing.

Wilson’s fumble didn’t give the Commanders 32 points. But that’s what the Broncos defense gave up after that play. To Sam Howell. That’s just inexcusable.

It was more of the same from Week 1, when Denver couldn’t get Las Vegas off the field. On Sunday, they couldn’t make a play when they had to, either.

Washington had 388 yards of total offense on the day. They held the ball for nearly 34 minutes of the game. They were 3-for-3 in the red zone.

Howell was 27-of-39 for 299 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t throw an interception. The Broncos made him look like Tom Brady.

Brian Robinson Jr. had 87 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. Denver made him look like Eric Dickerson.

With a 21-3 lead at home, a team shouldn’t lose. Barring pick-sixes, scoop-and-scores or special teams miscues, it’s on the defense to hold a three-score lead in that situation. The Broncos couldn’t do it.

Vance Joseph’s defense was awful. That should come as a surprise to no one.

The defensive coordinator wasn’t good in Miami in that role. He wasn’t in Arizona, either. And as the Broncos head coach during the 2017 and ’18 seasons, the team regressed on that side of the ball.

So far this season, VJ’s group has been picked apart by Jimmy Garoppolo and Sam Howell. A week after recording zero sacks against the Raiders, they failed to force a turnover against the Commanders.

They don’t make plays. They can’t get stops. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Not all of it is on Joseph, however. The players are also to blame.

Justin Simmons makes big money. He’s done nothing in two weeks.

Pat Surtain is arguably the Broncos best player. He makes zero impact, as teams can easily avoid a cornerback and simply pick on others.

Randy Gregory finally had a sack. But the team’s highest-paid pass rusher was missing in action in the second half, mirroring his performance from a week ago.

Denver’s biggest “stars” are failing to shine. And their role players aren’t ready for primetime.

The Broncos have tried to move on from Kareem Jackson for three straight years. They keep bringing the safety back. He committed a critical penalty against the Raiders that prevented the Broncos from getting the ball back while trailing 17-16 in the fourth quarter. Against the Commanders, he got ejected from the game for another dirty hit, this time on a touchdown that cut the score to 21-9.

It was an ridiculously unnecessary play. It hurt his team. But it’s par for the course.

Bad teams do dumb things. Losing players make losing decisions.

The Broncos roster is full of guys who’ve never won anything, aside from Wilson. Yet the quarterback will get the blame for the loss.

His head coach should get plenty. Sean Payton’s halftime adjustments were once again subpar. And his performance in the waning moments was laughable.

The Broncos were down 11 points when they got the ball back with 7:11 to play in the game. They didn’t go up temp. They didn’t have any sense of urgency. Instead, they methodically marched down the field, as Washington happily let them burn clock. Denver took 5:21 to kick a field goal that cut the lead to eight points.

Not scoring before the two-minute warning was an egregious error. Having to use a timeout after taking a sack on third-and-goal was the height of ineptitude.

But it didn’t end there. After scoring on a 50-yard hail mary as time expired, the Broncos had a chance to force overtime with a two-point conversion. Most teams have a play drawn up for just such a situation. They seem to be wide open more often than not. Denver ran a chaotic mess that wound up in an incompletion, although pass interference probably should’ve been called.

What was Payton’s reaction? Nothing. He stood emotionless on the sidelines.

A chance for a miraculous win went up in smoke. Payton reacted less than patrons at Starbucks when they run out of pumpkin spice lattes.

Add it all up and it’s a colossal disappointment. And it’s on the head coach.

His choice for defensive coordinator is a disaster. Everyone saw that coming.

His lack of in-game adjustments have been problematic. He’s been outcoached by Josh McDaniels and Ron Rivera to start the season.

And his inability to call up the right play in the crucial moment was disappointing. His giant playsheet needed one more line on it.

A lot of people in Broncos Country wanted an experienced head coach. They got one. But his seasoning doesn’t seem to be paying any dividends.


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Sean Payton has been an unmitigated disaster through two weeks