Different coach, players - same result

Just like last season, when there was a different coach and much of the roster was different, too, the Denver Broncos suffered a historic collapse.

In 2008, they were up three games in the AFC West with three to play and didn't make the playoffs. This season, they became the third team since the NFL-AFL merger to miss the playoffs after starting 6-0.

"Disappointed," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said. "I'm not going to be dramatic about it. I wish we were playing next week but we didn't play well enough to deserve that opportunity. There's no question about that."

The Broncos go into a crucial offseason, with key players such as quarterback Kyle Orton, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, guard Chris Kuper and disgruntled receiver Brandon Marshall set to become free agents. Denver will have to figure out what went wrong during the late-season swoon and what pieces they have that fit for the long term.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Broncos are trying to change the culture and instill McDaniels' system, and that will be a process. When McDaniels publicly called out receiver Brandon Marshall for the severity of his hamstring injury and deactivated a healthy Tony Scheffler for attitude reasons, he sent a strong message. He said things will change from the old regime. Many more of the players from Mike Shanahan's tenure -- including Marshall and Scheffler -- could be replaced.

McDaniels wants to bring many of the principles that were in place in New England, and that could take time. His energy was a boost for the franchise early in his first season, and he should be a better coach next year with a season under his belt.

The Broncos did make some progress on the field, especially on defense. The new 3-4 scheme brought about a drastic improvement, although they took a step back in the final game by allowing more than 500 yards to the Chiefs, including 259 yards rushing to Jamaal Charles. Overall, the defense took some steps and should be competitive again next season.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Denver finished the season losing eight of its final 10 games, which casts a light on the problems. The team needs more playmakers on offense and needs to figure out if Kyle Orton is the answer at quarterback. Orton will be a free agent.

Also, McDaniels will take a lot of heat this offseason for the collapse and how he handled the Marshall situation in the final week of the season. McDaniels criticized Marshall for his accountability and said he would be deactivated for the regular-season finale two days before that key game. Players publicly supported McDaniels after that move, but there seems to be a bit of a rift between the new players and some of the ones held over from Shanahan's time. McDaniels will have to continue to earn the respect of the locker room in his second season.

The Broncos also have to address why the 2009 draft class, which was McDaniels' first, had such little impact this season and whether those players can perform better in 2010.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Jabar Gaffney made 14 catches for 213 yards, one yard shy of the franchise record, against Kansas City. Gaffney made a strong case for a bigger role next year with his play over the last couple of weeks. --RB Knowshon Moreno ran for 50 yards on 14 carries and fell short of 1,000 yards for the season. Moreno had a solid but unspectacular rookie season.

--CB Ty Law had a 37-yard interception return against Kansas City. Law, a midseason acquisition, played well and would have to be a consideration to return if the Broncos can't upgrade at the cornerback position this offseason.

--QB Kyle Orton threw for 431 yards against the Chiefs, but picked a bad time to tie his season high with three interceptions. Two were returned for touchdowns in a loss that eliminated the Broncos from the postseason.

--TE Richard Quinn played extensively against the Chiefs with Tony Scheffler inactive, but didn't have a catch. Quinn, a second-round pick, did not make a catch his entire rookie season.



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