ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the 2020 season comes to a close, President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway needed few words to sum up the year.
"Obviously, disappointing," Elway told DenverBroncos.com's Phil Milani. "I think that we had higher expectations. We thought we'd win more football games, at least get in the [playoff] hunt."
Why the Broncos didn't reach their desired outcome wasn't much of a mystery in hindsight for Elway. An 0-3 start put them in a quick hole to begin the season and a mounting cavalcade of injuries to key veterans didn't make things any easier for the young team, he noted. But the most significant factor may have been the Broncos' turnover differential, which is ranked last in the league.
"I think getting off to the slow start we did hurt us, and then the injuries we got," Elway said. "… It was disappointing. I thought we had high hopes. But then again, with everything that's gone on, we knew offensively we were going to be tremendously young, [with] no offseason, no preseason that we were going to be a little bit behind the eight ball, and it showed early. …
"We kind of look at where we are turnover ratio-wise, dead last in the league, and just knowing that there's no way you can win football games turning the ball over as much as, as many times as we have, plus we haven't done a good job getting turnovers, either."
In spite of those struggles, there has been some reason for optimism heading into the offseason.
"You look at the roster, there's a lot of good, young football players we believe in, and Drew [Lock] showed some flashes," Elway said. "Obviously he's been very inconsistent but showed some flashes. And we still have high hopes for Drew that with a good offseason, a lot of hard work this offseason, a lot of film study, that he can come back and be a very good quarterback in this league."
Still, a strong finish in the last game of the year could provide a nice cap to the season heading into the offseason.
"I think we're always looking to play with more consistency and be smarter with the football and not turn the ball over and give ourselves a chance to win," Elway said. "I think that's been our hope every week, is that we be consistent [and] play to our potential, you know, and put a full game together, really against a good football team too, because the Raiders are a good football team. They're very, very good on the offensive side, so we're going to have our hands full. But it would be nice to end the year with a solid football game … and come out with a win to where it sends us into the offseason with a better taste in our mouth."
On Sunday, the 2020 Broncos will get one last chance to show their skills in the team's season finale against the Raiders. Contests against their longtime rivals have been hard-fought affairs, as the two teams have split the season series in each of the previous five years.
So even though the game may not be as physical as when Elway played, he doesn't think it's any less of a rivalry than it's ever been.
"I think it's still intense," Elway said. "Obviously I think the game's changed a little bit. What you can do [within] the rules and protecting the players a little bit more now than they used to, therefore the game's not as physical as it used to be because there is more protection, especially for quarterbacks, but also wide receivers. Jack Tatum, you know, was a guy in the middle who used to intimidate, and so that used to be a big part of the game, which is no longer there. So the rivalry's still there; it's just the late hits and the cheap shots have been cleaned up quite a bit."
Looking back on his battles with the silver and black, Elway recalled going against players like "The Mad Stork" Ted Hendricks and a 1993 season in which the Broncos ended the regular season against the Raiders before facing them in a first-round playoff game.
"To play back-to-back games against them, unfortunately we lost both of them, but for some reason that's what sticks in my mind," Elway said. "It was always a physical game and you knew going in they were always going to take a cheap shot, they were always going to do everything they could walk the line when it came down to the rules. So you had to be on guard and ready to go."