ENGLEWOOD — Saddled with a three-game losing streak that spoiled a postseason bid, coach Vic Fangio talked about a team that remains close to a U-turn.
His belief flies in the face of ugly statistics. The Broncos are 5-12 in the AFC West under Fangio, including 2-9 the past two seasons, are averaging 12 points per game during their current slide and boast the league's worst special teams coverage units.
The Broncos stood at 7-6 with everything in front of them, then spilled Ragu on the painting with losses to the Bengals, Raiders and Chargers.
"It's tough and disappointing," Fangio said of the current skid back to irrelevancy. "We’re close. We’re close to being there. We’ve got to find a way to get over the top. I believe in this team, and we’re on the cusp of getting to where we want to be."
Fangio's optimism and confidence require a leap of faith as speculation persists about his future. He has one year remaining on his contract with a club option for a fifth season. He volunteered last week to return without a contract extension. He has continually praised general manager George Paton, doing so again Monday when asked about the offensive issues.
"I'm confident that with George here, we're going to find the answer to that," Paton said.
Even while his defense has been solid, Sunday's loss notwithstanding, the offense and special teams remain a huge disappointment. The Broncos have sunk below 20 points per game, worse than a year ago, continue to struggle to convert on third downs — they are 4-for-21 the past two weeks — and rank 20th with 20 passing touchdowns. The running game, a clear team strength, has fizzled the past two weeks.
"It's such a well-built team. It's a Super Bowl team. We're so much better than our record shows," said Melvin Gordon, who might be playing his last game with Broncos on Saturday. "We're so talented across the board. It's ridiculous. We've got to be better. Hands down. We just haven't made enough plays. We just played too sloppy in the back half (of the season) to be the team we wanted to be."
The Broncos have shown they can protect the ball — their 17 turnovers is sixth fewest — but it is not translating into points. Fangio brought in offensive boss Pat Shurmur two years ago to create a more vertical passing attack that would stress defenses. It hasn't come to fruition, leaving the Broncos expected to employ their third offensive coordinator in four seasons regardless of the coach.
"We have had some good stretches offensively when Teddy (Bridgewater) was in there. Drew (Lock) has been put in tough spots. We have lost rhythm in running and passing game," Fangio said. "And we haven't converted third downs at a good enough clip."
Under coordinator Tom McMahon, who Fangio has kept on the staff despite poor results, the special teams spiraled to a season low against the Chargers, allowing 148 yards and a touchdown on two kickoff returns to Andre Roberts. For a losing team to make progress, it must win in the margins. The Broncos continue to sabotage themselves in this phase of the game.
"We have had a lot of good plays, and had plays that have negatively affected game also. That's an area that we have to clean up," Fangio said. "It's happened too often."
The hope is that Lock (right shoulder) will be healthy enough to start Saturday as Bridgewater remains in concussion protocol. Lock showed toughness, requiring a pain injection to finish Sunday's game. He finished 18 of 25 passing for 245 yards and one score.
“I think (Lock) has improved these last couple of weeks incrementally from game to game," Fangio said. "He has made some good throws. I thought he made some good reads, some that weren’t. I still think he can be an NFL quarterback."
The NFL moved the game to Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on Denver7. The Broncos are aiming to snap a 12-game losing streak to the Chiefs.
"We’re going to do everything and anything we can to win this game,” Fangio said.
Dalton Risner (elbow) will miss the season finale. It is considered a two-week type injury. Risner has missed only one game in his three-year career. ...
The Broncos played without seven starters against the Chargers, and Fangio hopes that a chunk of the players will return this week. ...