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Bronco Rob
11-16-2009, 02:59 AM
Kiszla: A whiff of panic


By Mark Kiszla
The Denver Post
Posted: 11/16/2009 01:00:00 AM MST


LANDOVER, Md. We know this stench. Why is there never a window in a football locker room when you really need to open one? The Broncos have the smell of a team in crisis.

As his quarterback hobbled down the hall on crutches, his defense nursed a black hole in its heart and his team's confidence was strewn like dirty adhesive tape on the floor, Denver coach Josh McDaniels must wonder:

How did he get here? Who stole the Broncos' identity? And where the heck is this team headed now?

"First, I'd like to give credit to the Chargers and Coach Zorn," McDaniels said Sunday, after the Broncos stunk up the joint in a 27-17 loss.

Um, coach. Hate to quibble. But those guys you lost to were, you know, the Redskins.

But give McDaniels partial credit. At least for the short term, Jim Zorn does coach wretched Washington, first in war and last in the NFC East.

Maybe you can't really blame McDaniels for sounding a bit scattered. The Broncos suddenly and unexpectedly have the look of a team coming undone. What, McD worry? He might want to skip a peek in the rearview mirror. The San Diego Chargers are scary objects closer than they appear.

Have the Broncos hit crisis mode, which, as everybody knows, is located right next to the panic button?

"Crisis? No. Tough spot? Absolutely," safety Brian Dawkins said.

McDaniels kept the Denver locker room together after trading quarterback Jay Cutler at the dawn of spring. The young coach won a staredown with pouting receiver Brandon Marshall in the heat of summer.

Those were big victories for a kid coach. But those triumphs are also old news. As autumn turns cold, we shudder to think what McDaniels faces now: the most legitimate crisis of his young career in Denver.

In what seems like a continuous- loop nightmare, the Broncos have unraveled from the too-good-to-be- true team that started the season 6-0 to a sorry-oh-no-here-we-go- again bunch evoking the bad deju vu that got former coach Mike Shanahan fired.

"We're a confident group. It's just that we haven't felt a win now, counting the bye week, for a month. We've got to rally the troops," said quarterback Kyle Orton, who injured his left ankle on his final offensive play before intermission, then stood helplessly during the second half, as Denver lost its third consecutive game.

And to think this gorgeous autumn afternoon all started so beautifully, with Orton throwing touchdown passes of 40 and 75 yards to Marshall, as the Broncos took a 17-14 lead at halftime.

After the injured Orton told McDaniels it was impossible to continue, however, the coach handed Chris Simms the keys to what turned out to be a clown car. Who knew?

Only a fool would suggest there could now be any possibility of a quarterback controversy on the Broncos. In a statistic so impossibly bad it's downright hard to believe, Simms averaged 1 yard for each of his 13 pass attempts in a second half that saw the Broncos score not a single point. His quarterback rating (7.5) was barely higher than the number (2) on the back on his Denver jersey.

In fact, if I had been shifting nervously in McDaniels' shoes, I might have shuffled over to Orton before the Redskins scored 13 in the decisive fourth period and asked one more time with a pretty please if there was any possible way the ailing quarterback could limp back to the Denver huddle.

There's not much time for McDaniels to fix everything wrong with the Broncos, who seemed to have lost their mojo, their focus and their sense of purpose.

(Ahem, can anybody explain how Denver could make Washington punter Hunter Smith look like Sonny freakin' Jurgensen on a 35-yard touchdown pass that quite possibly was the lamest example of subterfuge anybody had seen around here since the Watergate break-in?)

If you think the past three games were tough on the Broncos, then try not to imagine how rugged the stretch of 12 days that began with this loss to wretched Washington could be on the Broncos' collective ego.

Tests against San Diego and the New York Giants will come at Denver in rapid-fire succession, which means 6-0 could turn into six and oh-no in the blink of an eye. The Broncos could awaken the morning after Thanksgiving to a very black Friday.

These 12 days in November won't define McDaniels as a coach. But these 12 days will tell if the Broncos are broken beyond repair.

This team has taken a great fall.

Can McDaniels put all the pieces back together again?



http://www.denverpost.com/premium/broncos/ci_13796527