CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The sobering reality of a meaningless game began to settle in on Thursday. The Broncos struggled to reconcile playing Sunday with nothing on the line. Of course, there's pride, and personal stats, but it is an awkward existence after winning five straight AFC West titles.
What could have changed things? It starts on offense where the Broncos rank near the bottom of several categories, including yards per game (27th), yards per play (25th), points (22nd), passing yards (20th) and rushing yards (28th).
"At some point you have to stand up and accept if we played better offensively we would have probably made the playoffs," receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "We've just got get better and we are going to get better."
The Broncos reflected on their shortcomings Thursday, recognizing the need for improvement. Beyond receivers Demaryius Thomas and Sanders no one on offense put up significant numbers.
"We were able to win a Super Bowl and not be great on offense by taking care of the ball," said Thomas, who admitted to Denver7 that his hip injury improved over the season, leading to his strong final push. "It's about everybody doing their job."
The Broncos will start Trevor Siemian on Sunday with backup Paxton Lynch seeing some playing time. Coach Gary Kubiak has a plan in his mind on the playing time, but also wants to see the flow of the game before making substitutions.
Slow starts, tough finish
The Broncos defense owns impressive numbers. But two warts stick out in an unfulfilled season: the inability to stop the run and first drives. Only the Browns have allowed more points on first possessions than the Broncos. It put Denver in a hole that it struggled to climb out of given the offense's issues.
"We just didn't win enough games, that's the bottom line. And even though we haven't given up a lot of points (19.4, sixth best), getting behind early has hurt our team," defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said.
Ware house of memories
Count Von Miller among the legion of teammates who want DeMarcus Ware to return next season. Ware served as a mentor to Miller, helping him rebound after a suspension. Ware will undergo surgery to repair a ruptured disc in his back. Kubiak said Ware dealt with an infection in training camp, and Phillips admitted that Ware had stiffness in his back all season. Yet, he remained a big brother presence in the locker room.
"I could write a book on the impact DeMarcus has had on my career and life," Miller said. "That Ferrari might have brake issues. But you can get those fixed. He has gas in the tank."
- Defensive end Derek Wolfe (neck) and safety T.J. Ward (concussion) did not practice, making it unlikely they play on Sunday.
- The Broncos will look to rotate in young players on both sides of the ball. But Phillips reminded, "we still want to win the game." In other words, this isn't preseason.
- Sanders told Denver7 he plans to host teammates in Houston in the offseason prior to mini camp. The throwing sessions would involve Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.