OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — While the Oakland Raiders celebrated with their fans following the possible final game at the Coliseum, the Denver Broncos trudged off the field with a lowly distinction.
For the first time in 46 years, the Broncos are losers in back-to-back seasons.
Now the big question following a 27-14 loss to the Raiders on Monday night that provided Denver’s ninth defeat of the season is whether the two down years will cost coach Vance Joseph his job.
”It’s frustrating,” he said. ”Our team, I thought we maxed out every game. Probably the Jets game didn’t max out, but it didn’t feel good today. We didn’t play good enough football to win. Defensively, we had our moments, but still gave up two big drives when we had to get stops. We didn’t play very good football today.”
That’s been the case far too often in Joseph’s two years at the helm as one of the NFL’s most consistent franchises has run into some tough times of late.
Denver (6-9) went 5-11 in Joseph’s first year but showed signs of improvement this season when the Broncos beat Cincinnati on Dec. 2 to improve to 6-6 with playoff aspirations.
But three straight losses to teams that entered the game with losing records followed and now a franchise that won a Super Bowl as recently as 2015 is searching for answers. This is the first time since 1971-72 that Denver posted losing records in consecutive seasons. That had been the longest active streak without doing it.
”It’s tough,” star pass rusher Von Miller said. ”Especially being part of an organization that’s so used to elite play, elite wins and being an elite organization. It’s tough and it’s the story of the season. We played every game tough. We played every game hard for our team and our coaches but came up short.”
There were plenty of problems against the Raiders on a night the fans came out to celebrate a stadium that might have hosted its final game. The Raiders (4-11) are set to move to Las Vegas in 2020 and have no lease for next year. With Oakland officials having sued the team over the move, the Raiders are looking into other options for 2019, including AT&T Park in San Francisco.
A decision is expected before the Super Bowl, but many of the die-hards came out for this game knowing it could be the last NFL game ever in the stadium that opened in 1966.
The Broncos did little to spoil the party, starting with a botched special teams play that led to a 99-yard punt return touchdown for Dwayne Harris, continuing with 11 penalties and ending with a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions by Case Keenum that ended any comeback hopes.
”We all want to play better,” Keenum said. ”Nobody likes not winning. We all hate losing. We all want to play hard and we all want to win for Coach Joseph. We all love him. He’s an incredible human and a great football coach. I want to play hard for him and I want to play hard for everybody in that locker room. That’s a big part of our team and our identity that we stay together, we all like and respect each other and we all fight for each other. But it’s a production league. When you’re not winning, it’s tough.”
The biggest bright spot for the game became tainted as well when Phillip Lindsay left the game with a wrist injury after becoming just the third undrafted rookie ever to rush for 1,000 yards in a season.
Lindsay ran for 46 yards to reach 1,037 on the season, joining Dominic Rhodes and LaGarrette Blount in the accomplishment. Lindsay needs 68 more yards to break Rhodes’ record set in 2001 for Indianapolis.
But he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to play the finale against the Chargers.
”I’m going to get it looked at it tomorrow and go from there,” he said. ”If I can play, I can play. Right now I can’t tell you anything because I don’t even know. I’ll go back tomorrow and get it looked at.”