DENVER — The Broncos' 4-1 record over the final five games of the 2019 season is admirable.
They're one of just three AFC teams to finish the season with at least four wins in their last five games.
Denver's mentality as the team enters the 2020 offseason? That's even more impressive.
"We're done with this losing [expletive]," said outside linebacker Von Miller in the locker room after a 16-15 win over the Raiders. "Next year is going to be our year, and I'll be ready to go."
After four seasons without a playoff berth, Miller is understandably ready to end the Broncos' skid. And he also has plenty of reasons to be justified in his optimism.
Next year's Broncos could feature pieces that include:
- Drew Lock, a second-year quarterback who became just the third Bronco to win four of his first five career starts. Lock threw for 177 yards and a touchdown and posted a 90.9 quarterback rating in his final game of the season.
"I can't say enough good things about Drew Lock, a 4-1 football player," rookie Dalton Risner said. "It is hard to win games in the NFL, especially when you are a rookie. The dude deserved to be drafted in the first round, and I think that he has proven that these past five games. I think Drew is going to kick a lot of ass next year."
- Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay and Noah Fant — a trio of first- or second-year players that combined for 16 touchdowns and nearly 3,000 yards from scrimmage.
"I'm full of wonderment," Lock said. "We've got a very good football team, a very young team. There's a bunch of stats out there about how young we are and how much all of us are getting paid in total. It kind of cracks me up. It's a big opportunity for us because we are very young and we finally have some experience as well as a young team. There's time for us to build and be something super special. It's different when you have a bunch of old guys in here and a bunch of first-time guys like me coming in and playing. That was something big for us, being able to give me some experience, Noah the whole year playing, Dalton the whole year playing, Courtland another year, DaeSean [Hamilton] another year. It's tremendous for what our possible success could be as a team."
- A healthy defense that includes a rested Miller and the return of Bradley Chubb, Kareem Jackson and Bryce Callahan.
Head Coach Vic Fangio made it clear that "nobody's proud of" a 7-9 record to close the year, but he's also seen this sort of performance before after a rough start. Due to a series of close losses, Denver started the season 0-4.
In 1986, as the Saints' linebacker coach, Fangio saw New Orleans start 1-4 before finishing with a 7-9 record. A year later, the Saints improved to 12-3.
Nearly a decade later, in Fangio's first year as a defensive coordinator, the expansion Panthers started 0-5 before rebounding to finish 7-9. The following year, Carolina finished 12-4.
"We've got a good team," Fangio said. "Our record isn't good, but we have a bunch of good guys and good teammates that are together. These guys gave great effort all year. I don't think that's debatable. I've been in two other places with first-year staffs where we started 1-4 and 0-5 and ended up both of those seasons 7-9 and that next year won 12 games. I'm not saying we're going to win 12 games, but I think when you end positively, it can carry over to the next season."
Fangio has overseen another recent turnaround. The Bears finished 5-11 in 2017 with Fangio as their defensive coordinator after a 1-4 start. The following season, they improved to 12-4 while boasting the league's best defense.
"I think positive momentum is better than negative momentum, obviously," Fangio said, "but we have to start all over next April when we get our guys back. I do think finishing the season the way we did can carry over and give guys confidence on an individual basis and as a team. I do think it can carry over."
At least in the victorious locker room on Sunday evening, that momentum seemed tangible.
Over the previous three seasons, the Broncos have finished 1-2 in their finales. This win felt different, obviously, from the losses. And it also felt different from a 2016 finale after which Gary Kubiak retired as head coach.
This win felt like a sign of things to come in Broncos Country.
"It's a totally different feeling from a year ago," Lindsay said. "It was also a totally different practice heading into our last game from a year ago. … We had [one of] the hardest schedule[s] in the NFL, so it shows we can play with the best.
"Next year, they will feel us."