Three Turning Points That Changed The Denver Broncos Season

For the first time since 2011, the Broncos will not be AFC West Champions. Adam Uribes takes time to pause, and evaluate where it all went wrong for the Broncos this season, and identify what the turning points were.

Waking up this morning, many Broncos fans wondered what happened to their team's season. After Sunday’s 16-3 loss to the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos are now on the outside looking in for the last spot in the AFC playoff picture. In spite of an inspired defensive effort that saw Denver slow down the vaunted New England attack, the Broncos offense sputtered early and often in the losing effort. In a season that started off 4-0 and with much promise, the last month of football has left many wondering if Denver is even deserving of chance to defend its title.

It seems like a lifetime ago when OTA’s ended and the Broncos prepared for training camp. Between then and now, some crucial events have had dire implications on the current state of the team and their season aspirations.

Let's take a look at the top three moments that have changed the Broncos season.

1. The Mark Sanchez Experiment

Very few fans were pleased to see the Broncos trade a draft pick away to procure quarterback Mark Sanchez from Philadelphia. However, after being spurned by Brock Osweiler in the offseason and unable to bring in Colin Kaepernick from San Francisco, it was a savvy move by John Elway to find a capable veteran quarterback at a reasonable price.

Entering a three-way competition for the starting job with second-year project Trevor Siemian and rookie Paxton Lynch, Sanchez looked to be the obvious choice at quarterback for the team once Organized Team Activities began. Then things got weird.

Sanchez was in a virtual dead heat with Siemian for most of camp but was still named the starter for the preseason opener versus the Chicago Bears. Sanchez, aside from an interception, looked more than capable of running Gary Kubiak's the way it was intended. It looked like a good marriage between scheme and player. Still, he was benched in favor of Siemian for the next game at home in order for the evaluation process to continue. Coming on in relief of Siemian, Sanchez would have some success in Game 2, before two costly turnovers essentially ended his time in Denver. By the close of the preseason, Sanchez would be released.

Its puzzling even still that Siemian was, and is, afforded the right to make mistakes for the sake of “development” but Sanchez was never given the same opportunity with just four quarters of preseason snaps working with backups and camp fodder. 

As of now, the offense is hand-cuffed by Siemian's limitations and looks nothing like what main play-caller, Gary Kubiak, is comfortable with. If the team had retained Sanchez as the starter, the offensive ineptitude we are seeing now probably wouldn't exist.

2. C.J. Anderson Going Down

The last time there was any reason for any optimism in Denver was during the 27-9 Week 7 win over the Houston Texans. In a cornerstone moment, the offense finally turned a corner with C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker setting the tone early, running over the Texans in route to a dominating win.

That excitement was tempered by the news that Anderson suffered a meniscus tear, ending his regular season in the process. It was a devastating blow to a team that looked like it had found some semblance of consistency moving the ball.

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With three out of the five spots on the offensive line belonging to either second or third-year players, an unused seventh-rounder playing quarterback, and two rookies in the backfield, Anderson’s worth has been felt more in the lack of experience more than anything.

Since Anderson's injury, the offense has gotten increasingly more stale, which has necessitated the need to bring in veteran Justin Forsett to offset the loss. Injuries are part of the game, with some hurting more than others.

But taking away the man who personified the term “kicking and screaming” was a major blow to the Broncos — one that they have yet to recover from.

3. Losing At Home To Kansas City

Week 12 was shaping up to be a typical Broncos win. Costly turnovers. A second half resurgence. A late defensive stop. Lather, rinse and repeat.

As per usual, the Denver offense got stymied. They were limited to just a field goal in the first half. Check

Denver came out of the break and took a lead late on a dramatic touchdown pass from Siemian to Bennie Fowler that put the Broncos up by eight. Check However, Kansas City had other plans, flipping the script in their come-from-behind win. In a rare miscue by the defense, the Chiefs would go the length pf the field late to not only score a touchdown but convert a two-point try to send the contest into overtime.

As we all know, the Chiefs would outlast the Broncos and leave Denver with the victory.

Dramatic losses can stay with a team like a bad smell. In a scenario that was formulaic in how Denver has won so many games over the past two seasons, the No Fly Zone faltered, and the game was lost.

Needing just one stop to dispatch the Chiefs, the percentages and odds that have favored the Broncos in so many of those situations finally deserted them.

For too long, the Broncos have lived on the edge, which has exhilarated fans with their penchant for late-game heroics. In what might have been the tipping point of the year, the Mile High Magic finally ran out on a cold night in November.

Where Do The Broncos Go From Here? 

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All hope is not lost. Denver still has time to make a good accounting of itself in these next two games. What the team does not have is the luxury of being in control of their own fate. That was lost in Sunday's futile offensive effort.

Denver still has one of the best defenses in the league — that was apparent in holding Tom Brady and New England to one of their worst offensive showings in recent memory. Considering the parity of the NFL game nowadays, anything can happen in these next two weeks that could still send the Broncos into the postseason.

This team has proven time and again its resiliency in moments like this. This group of players has gotten by so many times in difficult situations with their guile and poise.

Does Denver have the wherewithal to dig down one more time and fight their way to one of the last six playoff spots in the AFC? To answer that question, every player in orange and blue must look in the mirror. 

Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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