LAS VEGAS – At 11:24 a.m. in the bowels of Allegiant Stadium, Broncos quarterback Jarrett Stidham went through his arm care routine. Focus. Stretch. At one point, he shuffled his feet, wound his arm, cocked his hand, and delivered what exactly?
No one sees Stidham as the long-term future. But can he keep the seat warm for a rookie or compete against a veteran like Sam Darnold, Jimmy Garoppolo or Jameis Winston? Coach Sean Payton wants someone who can play on time, decipher looks at the line of scrimmage and use the entire playbook. He will have George Paton’s help finding a quarterback – Stidham represents the Broncos’ 13th starter since Peyton Manning – as multiple sources told Denver7 that the general manager will return because of his good working relationship with the coach.
Sunday showed the Broncos, even with the positive cultural shift and increased accountability, face an arduous offseason after losing their eighth straight game to Raiders 27-14.
"I told the players to remember how this feels," Payton said. "I thought they ran the ball better than us, they protected better and ... I was disappointed that they won the battle upfront."
Denver missed the playoffs for an eighth consecutive season with a loss to the Patriots, a defeat that stung more as a path opened for a berth with contenders losing on Sunday. Worse, the Broncos finished with a seventh straight losing record, approaching the franchise abyss of 10 set from 1963-72. By finishing with an 8-9 record, the Broncos hold the 12th pick in the 2024 draft.
The Raiders led as is their habit over the past four years vs. Denver. They completed a 13-yard drive with a little luck, motivated to keep coach Antonio Pierce on full time. WR Jakobi Meyers attempted to pull a quarter from behind his ear and ended up with a rabbit of out his hat. Meyers took the handoff on a reverse and intended to throw. With no one open, he darted in the opposite direction and scooted in for a 5-yard score.
Denver showed fight expected from a team that stressed the importance of a ninth win all week. Stidham found traction and receiver Jerry Jeudy. The former first-round pick raced and rammed his way in for a 24-yard score, his second of the season and first since Oct. 29 vs. the Chiefs. It was his best play in what has been largely a forgettable year that could lead to trade speculation.
Las Vegas secured at 10-7 advantage, but throws became memorable than Daniel Carlson’s field goal. The Broncos appeared to recover an Aidan O’Connell fumble as Alex Singleton pounced on the ball. He ran to the south end zone to celebrate as fans fired five alcohol cans at him and his teammates. The recovery was overturned. As were the drinks.
Denver’s defense struggled to find answers in the secondary. Fabian Moreau was beaten deep for 47 yards by Tre Tucker and Davante Adams hauled in a 3-yard touchdown as Ja’Quan McMillian mistimed his jump on a deflection attempt, capping a 98-yard drive with seven seconds left in the half.
Trailing 17-7, the Broncos’ offense looked no better than last week. The Chargers sacked Stidham twice, and the Raiders quickened that pace with three in the first 30 minutes. Stidham finished the half 9 of 17 for 113 yards. And Denver’s rush attack remained a whimper with Javonte Williams tops with 13 yards after 30 minutes.
When the Broncos assess issues this offseason, it must start on offense. They are not good enough. Even if Payton is considered a strong play caller, he needs more players. The lack of running game over much of the past two months has left teams to tee off. It does not help that the Broncos’ tight end production remains near the worst in the passing game. They cannot count on Greg Dulcich anymore, but Lucas Krull could figure into the plans. He was in line to catch a long touchdown pass out of heavy personnel when the Raiders deflected it away at the last second. It left the Broncos scoreless in the third quarter, where the dreams often went to die this season.
"Part of our job is build on what we have," Payton said. "You are what your record says you are. We are disappointed, but not discouraged."
His right index finger taped, O’Connell returned to the game in the third quarter. He connected on a 33-yard touchdown pass to Meyers. It was an ugly day for Denver’s secondary for players not named Patrick Surtain II and Justin Simmons.
Stidham kept slinging it in the headwinds of a 17-point deficit. Brandon Johnson established a career-high in yards, and Jeudy eclipsed 70 early in the fourth quarter. The Broncos shaved the deficit to 24-14 with a gadget play on fourth-and-2 at the goal line. Stidham went in motion, and Javonte Williams took the direct snap and churned in for a touchdown.
Stidham finsihed 20 of 32 for 272 yards.
"It was about winning not seeing Jared," Payton said.
Season over. Heartache real. The heavy lifting begins for Payton.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us this offseason," Payton said. "Nobody said this was going to be easy."
Running back Jaleel McLaughlin suffered a concussion in the first half. Edge rusher Nik Bonitto (calf) returned, and tight end Nate Adkins was ruled out at halftime with a hamstring injury. Courtland Sutton dealt with ankle injury during arguably his worst game of the season that included multiple drops and a penalty. …
Broncos finished the coin toss 12-5 on the season. They lost on Sunday. …
Cam Fleming started in place of the injured right tackle Mike McGlinchey (ribs). …
Russell Wilson, in almost certainly his last game as a Bronco, served as pregame captain with punter Riley Dixon. …