Discounting the value of a Broncos win would be a big mistake

Oct 23, 2023, 4:00 AM | Updated: 1:02 pm

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The Broncos won on Sunday. And the victory was met with a collective ho-hum in Denver.

To some extent, that’s understandable. For a lot of reasons.

Getting to 2-5 doesn’t exactly get the fan base fired up. A 19-17 game isn’t a thriller by any stretch. Making it harder to get the No. 1 overall pick, which is projected to be USC quarterback Caleb Williams, made some in Broncos Country angry.

As a result, it was one of the least-inspiring wins in recent memory. It’s hard to remember a more subdued “celebration” following a victory.

And that’s a bad thing. It’s a sign that Broncos Country has been infected with a loser’s mentality.

Winning in the NFL is difficult. Everything that’s happened in Denver since Super Bowl 50 is evidence of that fact.

So any victory should be celebrated. And the notion of wanting to lose, which will only perpetuate a culture of losing, should be squashed.

Winning, even games that won’t ultimately change the outcome of the season, can be meaningful. It can start to create a belief that better days are ahead.

Last season, there were two examples of this idea. And they should both serve as a case study to those who think the Broncos gain nothing from victories.

The Jacksonville Jaguars hit their bye week in 2022 with a 3-7 record. They had lost six out of their last seven games, including a 21-17 setback to the Broncos in London, and appeared to be going nowhere. Year one of the Doug Pederson era was going as poorly as the Urban Meyer debacle that he followed.

The Jags didn’t wave the white flag, however. They didn’t punt on their season. Instead, they used their bye week to right the ship.

Jacksonville won six of their last seven games, finished with a 9-8 record and won the embarrassingly weak AFC South. They went on to beat the Chargers in the AFC Wild Card, coming back from a 27-0 halftime deficit, and gave the Chiefs everything they wanted in the divisional round.

This season, the Jaguars are 5-2, atop their division and a legit contender to reach the Super Bowl. They found their winning formula and built upon it.

The same thing happened last season in Detroit. After seven games in ’22, it looked like the same old Lions in the Motor City. Dan Campbell’s team was 1-6, losers of five in a row.

But the head coach wouldn’t let his team quit. He didn’t surrender. He didn’t bail on the season and jockey for a better draft position.

Instead, Campbell and company competed. They battled. And lo and behold, they started winning games.

The Lions finished the season winning eight of their last 10 games. They went 9-8, but missed the playoffs. Nonetheless, the hot finish to the season set the stage for bigger and better things.

Detroit is currently 5-2, atop the NFC North and on the road to a playoff berth. They found their winning formula and built upon it.

That’s how things turn around. That’s how bad times turn into good ones.

It’s about putting in the work. It’s about battling. It’s about competing. Eventually, that mentality pays off; that process produces results.

That’s what the Broncos need to do the rest of the season. That’s what their final 11 games, starting yesterday against the Packers, need to be about.

Sure, they’re most likely not going anywhere this year. The playoffs aren’t happening. Heck, a Jaguars- or Lions-esque finish probably isn’t in the cards, either.

But changing the mindset can be. Establishing that losing isn’t acceptable is still an option. Finding out who wants to compete, even when nothing is on the line, is still doable.

To waste that opportunity would be foolish. To throw it away in the name of trying to get the No. 1 overall pick is just ludicrous.

Tanking sounds good in theory, but it isn’t a path to success. It’s not the HOV lane to championships.

It’s hard to find a Super Bowl winner that took that route to glory. Since the Broncos hoisted the Lombardi Trophy, the following teams have done the same: Patriots, Eagles, Patriots, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Rams and Chiefs. None of them lost intentionally in order to secure a draft pick that would take them to the mountaintop. Not one.

So why does anyone think the Broncos would be different? What history suggests that tanking for Caleb Williams would make them a champion?

He’d come in as a rookie quarterback, on a roster devoid of talent because of the $85 million in dead cap that the Broncos will endure across two seasons if they move on from Russell Wilson, and find success because of what? He’s going to make Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton dynamic receivers? He’s going to turn Mike McGlinchey and Ben Powers into top-notch offensive linemen? He’s going to make Vance Joseph’s defense suddenly stout?

Of course not. He’d be joining a losing organization that was behind the eight ball. He’d be walking into a mess, one that will take a few years to clean up.

By then, who knows what comes of the talented QB. Williams wouldn’t be the first highly touted player to be crushed under the weight of a team not ready to help him flourish.

A much wiser route is to seek a winning formula. It’s to figure out who the key players are on the current roster, who can help this team win now and in the future, and determine what truly needs to be fixed. It doesn’t take as many newcomers as people think.

Most NFL rosters are about the same from players 11 through 53. They’re relatively interchangeable. That doesn’t mean those guys aren’t talented; it just means they aren’t the difference between winning and losing over the long haul.

Take the last 43 players on the Broncos roster and trade them with the Chiefs. Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Chris Jones and company are still a Super Bowl favorite.

It’s about getting the top-10 players right. It’s about having difference makers in those spots.

That can change quickly. A hypothetical makes this point.

Imagine if the Broncos had drafted Justin Jefferson instead of Jerry Jeudy and Micah Parsons over Patrick Surtain. They’d be a better team right now. They’d be more dynamic on offense and defense.

They wouldn’t be a Super Bowl team, but they’d be closer. They’d certainly have less holes to fill.

It can happen that quick. It can change that fast.

That’s why bailing on the 2023 season would be a mistake. That would be a wasted opportunity.

Find out how many players belong in that top 10. Figure out the most-glaring needs. Determine who is on board and who isn’t. See who wants to battle and who wants to quit.

Trying to win reveals those things. Competing makes it obvious.

That’s why a win should be celebrated. The Broncos took a step forward on Sunday.


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