The last 10 months have not been the easiest for the Denver Broncos.
It all started with a devastating playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January, a game the Broncos were suppose to win. They were the favorite to win the Super Bowl.
Then Denver dealt with front office members Matt Russell and Tom Heckert being charged with driving under the influence. Questions surrounding the Broncos’ brass were raised. The public relations nightmare was beginning.
They tried to restructure defensive end Elvis Dumervil’s contract. The deal looked to be completed until Dumervil and his then agent didn’t fax the contract back by the deadline. Dumervil was cut and signed by the Ravens.
The real headache was Von Miller. He was suspended for six games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He tried to appeal and some ugly rumors came out about the star linebacker. He missed the first six games, leaving the Broncos without their best defensive player.
Now, it has gotten more serious, as head coach John Fox had aortic valve replacement surgery on Monday. The surgery, while very common, is still a serious matter for the coach. He will miss 6-8 weeks.
While Fox gets his fair share of backlash for his conservative play at times, he is one of the leaders of this Broncos team. Broncos Vice President of Football Operations John Elway may have built this team, but it is Fox’s squad. He will be missed.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio takes over as interim head coach. Del Rio has plenty of head coaching experience with the Jacksonville Jaguars and is well respected in the Broncos locker room. He was the right choice. Del Rio will also still make the calls for the defense during games.
“We’re on a mission,” Del Rio said during his press conference on Monday, “We’re on a mission to carry on. This is coach Fox’s team.”
Del Rio also said he and the whole team want to make Fox proud and the way to do that is by playing good football.
Even with a coach like Del Rio at the helm and leaders like Peyton Manning and Woodyard on the field, all this has to be taking a bit of a toll on the 7-1 Broncos.
The Broncos head into their toughest stretch of the schedule. Three out of four games are on the road with trips to San Diego, Kansas City and New England. There is also a prime time game at home against the 9-0 Chiefs.
Those four games will define the Broncos’ season. If the Broncos want home games in January in the playoffs, they have to win three of those games. Del Rio won’t be coming in and changing game plans but it will be a different voice for the team.
There has to be the possibility of fatigue setting in with this team. When has the build-up for one of the Broncos games been just about the game? It really hasn’t been many times this season.
It has been revenge against the Ravens or the Manning Bowl or Peyton’s return to Indy or Mike Shanahan’s return to Denver and now it is a new coach. It has been one thing after another.
These guys are pros and should be able to block out all of these distractions. The Broncos’ goals have never changed. It has always been about winning the Super Bowl and that is all. Nothing should change for Denver.
But the drama has been there and will continue to be there for the rest of the season. There will be questions for this team until they play their last game, which they hope will be the Super Bowl.
In a season full of drama and distractions, the best thing the Broncos can do is go out and play football, which they have been pretty good at so far this season.
Chris Schmaedeke is currently the Assistant Sports Editor at the Daily Camera in Boulder. He has worked in sports journalism in Colorado since 2001 when he started at the Rocky Mountain News. He has covered the Denver Broncos for several websites over the past two years.
Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisSchmaedeke