ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A season ago, the Broncos began the season with a 3-8 record that virtually eliminated the team from playoff contention.
But rather than continue to accrue losses, the Broncos rallied to win four of their final five games. Some of the team's newfound success came as a result of Drew Lock's insertion into the lineup, but Head Coach Vic Fangio said Thursday the Broncos have a standard that remains regardless of their record.
"I just think it's the foundation that you set from Day 1 that you're going to play hard," Fangio said. "You're not going to accept anything less than that. The players need to hold themselves accountable for that, [and] obviously as coaches we need to do that also. I think it's just become a good habit for these guys that they're going to play hard."
The Broncos will aim to replicate that late-season success in 2020, as a 3-1 record to close the year is still within reach.
And while a 7-9 record wouldn't change the Broncos' playoff hopes this season, it would again reiterate the team's commitment to playing hard despite the circumstances.
"Broncos Country expects a lot out of us, and I wouldn't want it any other way," Dalton Risner said Thursday. "I'm not resentful towards that. I love how you guys as media members expect more. I love how our fan base expects more, because there's some teams that haven't won a Super Bowl in 50 years. There are some teams that losing seasons is what they do. Here at the Broncos, we're used to winning Super Bowls. We're used to having winning football seasons, and we realized that we haven't done that the last two years and we have to be better."
That change begins with playing a more consistent brand of football, according to Risner.
"I'm not a head coach, I'm not the GM of this team, all I can tell you is that we're a young football team — and these aren't excuses — but we're a young football team and some of our best players are out," Risner said. "Courtland Sutton, Von Miller, Mike Purcell — I could go on and on about guys that are out. Our secondary is low as well. When it comes to consistency, we can't go and play the Panthers — I realized that they were a 4-9 team at the time — and play the way we did on offense and then come back and play the way we did on offense against the Bills. There are so many things that go into it, and it's all about consistency. It's all about all 11 guys on the team doing their job every single play, and I truly believe that the more time we get together as an offense and the more time we get together as a team, as one — the more snaps we get, the better we will get with consistency. Drew will get more consistent, I will get more consistent, the offensive line will, our running backs, our wide receivers, and I think consistency is where you see good football teams. You look at the teams that are in the playoffs now, and I think they are some of the most consistent teams in the league. You don't look at very many of those teams and you look at them as being inconsistent. They're pretty consistent football teams. … [I] think consistency is exactly what we have to be better at."
'ONE OF THE TOP CENTER FIELDERS'
Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell has coached some talented players during several different stints with the Broncos, including Hall of Famers Steve Atwater and Champ Bailey. Perhaps that makes it more impressive that first-time Pro Bowler Justin Simmons continues to stand out to Donatell.
"For Justin, just looking back over those three decades, I've been fortunate enough to work with a lot of good players," Donatell said. "He's another one, and he brings stuff that I've never had before. Just the way he connects people. There are so many little things that go on daily that nobody sees that I feel and that helps us as a coaching staff. How complete can you be? He's complete with his teammates and he's complete with coaches. Off the field, he's a great husband and father. This guy is complete, and he's a very giving person to other people. I love seeing that. A true safety, and in my mind, a valuable element is guy that can play center field. A guy that can process and get the ball in the deep part of the field. I think he's going to get it more. This is one of the top center fielders, and the voters got this one right. This guy deserves it."
Taylor Russolino made his NFL debut in Week 15 as Brandon McManus remained on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and he struggled in his debut. The former XFL player made just 1-of-3 extra points and also missed a 51-yard field goal.
"Taylor was terrible," Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon said. "He had a bad day. It got a little big for him with the wind — he didn't handle it right. I think it shows … how happy we are getting Brandon back. This is a tough league. It took Brandon McManus two years to kick a football in this league with failures and this, that and the other. You can see how valuable those players are and it showed up in that game, not just on field goal but on kickoffs, but it got big for him. The wind — he didn't handle it right, but he'll get better."
McMahon said he'll work to help develop Russolino, but he also emphasized that he hopes McManus remains available.
"I'd be lying to you if I don't say I want to see Brandon the next two weeks, and I want to see Brandon for the next four years every single week, every single minute of the day, every hour of the day," McMahon said. "I want to see Brandon because he's established himself. He's earned that right and that's a compliment."