ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Case Keenum’s improbable, last-second touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs in the divisional round may be the lasting image of last year’s playoffs.
In his final year with the Vikings, Keenum evaded pressure, found Diggs on a deep route toward the right sideline and then watched his receiver break free for a game-winning score.
The “Minneapolis Miracle” became synonymous with Keenum in the coming weeks — and it was played on loop when Keenum signed with the Broncos in March.
But a year later — following a 6-10 season in which Keenum couldn’t match his 22-touchdown, seven-interception output of 2017 — Keenum seems more focused on the game that came after that implausible win over the Saints.
Keenum and the Vikings lost that next game 38-7 to the eventual Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, and he said he hasn’t forgotten that feeling.
That’s what will fuel him this offseason as he faces questions about whether he can get the Broncos to the playoffs and to an eventual Super Bowl title.
“I’m going to be me and I’m going to do what I do,” Keenum said. “I’m confident in my abilities, I’m confident in what I can do and I’m confident that I can play at the highest level in this league. I’ve been one step away from the big game and it’s left a fire in my belly and I want to get back there. I don’t want to just prove that I’m the guy, I don’t want to just have a winning season, I don’t want to just get back to the playoffs — I want to win the big one and I’m going to do everything I can every day.
“I’m not going to focus on proving … anything. I’m going to focus on winning football games and I’m going to focus on being the best quarterback that I can be for the Denver Broncos.”
Keenum, who finished the year with 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 3,890 yards and a 62.3 percent completion percentage, doesn’t shoulder all of the blame for the offense’s struggles.
Injuries ravaged the offense late in the year as the team lost Emmanuel Sanders and Phillip Lindsay to injury. Earlier in the season, tight ends Jake Butt and Jeff Heuerman both suffered season-ending injuries. And then there’s the offensive line, which featured only two of the team’s initial starters in their original positions when the Broncos trotted out for Week 17. Matt Paradis and Ron Leary were both knocked out for the year — as was reserve lineman Max Garcia.
A healthier offense and a number of other systematic tweaks could help lead to success in 2019, though.
“It comes down to giving also the best opportunity to be successful,” President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said Monday. “I think offensively, we got decimated with injuries, especially late. We lost Emmanuel, that hurt, Heuerman hurt. Those types of things hurt you, but that can’t be an excuse. We still have to figure out ways to get the job done. We’re excited about the young guys that we do have in Courtland [Sutton] and [DaeSean] Hamilton. Tim Patrick has played well. They’re young guys and they’re going to continue to get better and better. We just have to continue to try to hunt and find the right combination on the offensive side with players as well as coaches.”
Elway, meanwhile, will continue to do his due diligence to ensure the Broncos have the best possible option at quarterback.
“I’m going to go and shake some trees out there for the quarterback and see if one falls out,” Elway said laughing. “Case is our quarterback right now and we’ve got to do a better job of supporting him too. Case did a nice job this year. Obviously, he’ll tell you the same thing, he could’ve played better, but we’re always looking for that guy. We’ll continue to work for him and go from there.”
As Elway continues his work to put Keenum — and the Broncos — in the best position to succeed, the Broncos’ starting quarterback will continue to prepare in the same fashion.
And while the Broncos finished 6-10 and short of a playoff berth, Keenum said he sees value in the experience he gained in 2018. There’s a reason he believes his first season in Denver can serve as a foundation for future success.
“We’re going to go back to work,” Keenum said. “I think this was — me, being my first year here — a great building year for me and a great learning year. There are obviously a lot of plays I want back, but there are a lot of plays we made and we had a lot of success too. … I think just for me personally and my career, I learned a lot this year. I learned what it is to be a franchise quarterback. To be a guy that the team needs and can count on and can make the big plays when everything’s hitting the fan, I think that’s something that I’m going to make that next step in my career as a player, as a quarterback and as a franchise guy.
“To get back to playoffs and to get back to seeing the confetti fall, that’s the ultimate goal and one of the big reasons why I’m here. That’s why I am here. That’s what I want to do and something I see in our future.”