Denver had chances to wrap up the division with wins at Carolina and against Buffalo, but dropped two in a row to set up a winner-take-all game to end the season at San Diego. Then the Broncos' season ended in the worst way, with a humiliating 52-21 defeat to the Chargers that shined a bright light on some of the areas the Broncos need to improve in what will be a long offseason.
What went right: The Broncos have reason to believe they can be competitive in 2009, because their offense is young and very good. Quarterback Jay Cutler had a Pro Bowl season, and he has a very good supporting cast. Receiver Brandon Marshall has put together back-to-back 100-catch seasons and rookie Eddie Royal finished with 980 yards. Tight end Tony Scheffler is one of the most dangerous pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. Ryan Clady had a nearly perfect season at left tackle as a rookie and right tackle Ryan Harris played well. All of those players have three or fewer years of NFL experience.
The running back situation is in flux after seven tailbacks went on injured reserve. There's no obvious future star at tailback for the Broncos, but they always seem to run the ball well. If Denver can find a standout tailback, or find success using a number of backs in an effective committee, the offense will be incredibly tough to stop.
What went wrong: Denver can't put the kind of pressure on its offense like it did in 2008. There were games, including the season finale, in which the offense felt it had to score on every possession. The Broncos allowed 491 yards and 52 points to the Chargers in the final game of the season when a playoff spot was on the line. That exposed some problems.
Denver had very little pass rush through most of the season. That led to problems stopping the pass, and also was a reason the team had only six interceptions all year. Schematically the Broncos weren't that aggressive, which was another reason they didn't make many big plays. And when cornerback Champ Bailey missed a significant portion of the season with a groin injury, there just weren't many playmakers on the defense.
Coach Mike Shanahan said he will not consider replacing defensive coordinator Bob Slowik this offseason, which means Denver won't have a new defensive coordinator for a fourth straight season. The personnel needs to be upgraded, however. Denver will likely concentrate on the defensive line, safety and perhaps cornerback depth in the draft and free agency.
--QB Jay Cutler passed for 316 yards and one touchdown Sunday night but also threw two interceptions.
--RB Tatum Bell had touchdown runs of 26 and 37 yards and finished with eight carries for 86 yards and the two scores against San Diego.
--WR Brandon Marshall caught six passes Sunday to give him 104 catches for the year. He has put together back-to-back 100-catch seasons.
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