Broncos Update Insider - 12/28

The Denver Broncos will enter the offseason knowing that they were outscored 64-6 by San Diego, and they have a long way to go before closing the gap on the best team in the AFC West.

The Denver Broncos had hopes of competing with the San Diego Chargers for the AFC West crown this season.

They weren't even close. Denver will finish with a losing record for the first time since 1999. San Diego had the division title wrapped up before Monday night, and still beat the Broncos 23-3.

The Broncos will enter the offseason knowing that they were outscored 64-6 by San Diego this season, and they have a long way to go before closing the gap on the best team in the AFC West.

"We've got to start winning games to make it a rivalry," quarterback Jay Cutler said.

San Diego led 23-3 after their first drive in the third quarter, then started pulling starters. The Chargers have to worry about keeping players healthy for the playoffs, something Denver doesn't have to concern itself with. The Broncos' season will end with a home game against Minnesota next week.

Even though the Broncos have had some embarrassing losses and some heartbreaking losses this season, the enduring memory from the year might be how they were outplayed so soundly by San Diego.

"If you don't run the football and aren't ready to make some tough yards, they're going to do it to you," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said.

--Punter Paul Ernster was signed after the Broncos let Todd Sauerbrun go, after Sauerbrun got in trouble with the law, and Ernster had a chance to make an impression going into 2008. But Ernster had a horrible night against San Diego, botching many of his punts.

Ernster punted in the season opener for Cleveland, and hadn't played since. He said he was rusty, but that he was still upset with his performance.

"Hopefully I'll get a chance to come back," Ernster said. "They know I can kick."

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan wouldn't commit to another game for Ernster. "We'll see," Shanahan said.

--Broncos safety John Lynch uncharacteristically drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the first quarter of Monday night's game. He ended up knocking off LaDainian Tomlinson's helmet on a tackle, and fired it downfield after the play.

"That's something I've never done in 15 years," Lynch said. "I'm not proud of it by any means."

--TE Daniel Graham started against San Diego despite an ankle injury, but that probably wasn't a good idea. Graham said the ankle bothered him the whole game, and he was out of the game by halftime.

--WR Brandon Stokley was inactive again with a knee injury. He is getting better, but with one game remaining, the Broncos might not push him to return.

--WR Javon Walker started because Stokley was inactive and caught two passes for 14 yards. Walker needs a few months of rest in the offseason to get healthy after having knee surgery in October.

--LB Ian Gold didn't play against San Diego because of a knee injury. Jamie Winborn started in his place, and Winborn could start again this week if Gold doesn't recover.

--DT Josh Mallard has been a pleasant surprise for the Broncos. He got his second sack in two games against the Chargers, and will be a candidate to return in 2008.

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