DENVER — The playoff dreams died on a refrigerator-cold Sunday night at Empower Field at Mile High.
The Broncos lost in a win, eliminated from the postseason when Kansas City and Pittsburgh came out victorious. Denver has not reached the playoffs since 2015. They looked worthy of a bid in victories over the Chiefs, Bills and Browns. However, they doomed their chances by squandering halftime leads at home to the Raiders, Commanders, Jets and Patriots.
So, as it is the Broncos sit at 8-8 with one game left. A confluence of factors makes the season finale matter.
Coach Sean Payton wants to finish with a winning record, the franchise’s first since 2016. It provides important evaluation of players, most notably starting quarterback Jarrett Stidham, and Denver can vanquish a seven-game skid to the Raiders after ending ugly streaks to the Chiefs (16 games) and on Monday Night Football (seven) this season.
“The focus is a little more inward,” Payton said Monday.
Plenty of eyes will be fixated on Stidham. He replaced Russell Wilson against the Chargers and won his first NFL game. It earned him “atta-boys,” and another opportunity this week in Las Vegas on Sunday with Wilson as his backup.
“I think that’s the case for every player (that evaluation carries weight in this game). It would definitely carry over into next year and how we feel about his role,” Payton said. “These are important snaps and games for him.”
In replacing Wilson with Stidham, Payton sought offensive improvement and a “spark.” The cursory numbers were not better – Stidham threw for 224 yards, same as Wilson vs. the Chargers three weeks ago – and Denver posted its lost point total since Week 6. But the passing attack featured more crossing routes, and Stidham played the point guard role well, according to Payton.
“Our number one job is to score. That’s the first thing. But I thought Jarrett did a good job after seeing the tape with the ball security, all those things you want to see from that position,” Payton said of Stidham, who finished 20 of 32 passing with one touchdown and no turnovers. “A lot of positives to build off of.”
The season finale can be tricky for some teams when there is no postseason berth at stake. Some clubs, the Broncos included, have sat out players. Payton does not prescribe to this theory. Every player who is cleared will play.
“It’s not tricky at all. Here’s the thing that I would say. On game day there are not enough players to rest everyone. In college there is,” Payton said. “We do everything in our power to win the game. It’s that important. It’s that simple.”
Safety Delarrin Turner-Yell tore his ACL against the Chargers and will be placed on the IR. He served as special teams core player this season.
Right tackle Mike McGlinchey suffered a rib injury when he took a helmet to the side on Sunday but has not been ruled out for Sunday’s game.
The last time Broncos beat the Raiders on the road was Nov. 11, 2015 at Oakland, a streak of seven straight games.