Back in 2022, the Broncos were helmed by overmatched novice head coach Nathaniel Hackett, who had been hired to lure Green Bay Packers legend Aaron Rodgers to Colorado — a gambit that didn't work. Hackett was subsequently charged with bringing the best out of the seemingly second-best QB option available, disgruntled Seattle Seahawks hurler Russell Wilson — and that was a flop, too. But while Denver fell to Seattle in a heavily hyped opening contest last September, the Broncos managed to eke out a victory over the woeful Houston Texans in game two, thanks largely to a stifling defense that only allowed nine points.
Cut to the latest iteration of the Broncos, helmed by Sean Payton, a Super Bowl-winning hardass whose reputation as a quarterback whisperer is founded on the Hall of Fame-worthy career of Drew Brees. Payton's attempt to resurrect Wilson's career didn't get off to a great start with Denver's 17-16 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders last week. But the blame for that fell less on Russ than on the defense, now operating under the direction of Vance Joseph, whose own stint as Broncos head coach was an enormous disappointment. And the D deteriorated even further against the Commanders, despite the sort of offensive breakthrough that Denver loyalists have been fantasizing about since Wilson's arrival.
In contrast to the steady dink-and-dunk diet he served up against the Raiders, Wilson was actually able to convert some big plays, including a sixty-yard bomb to fresh draftee Marvin Mims Jr. that put Denver up 14-3 — and a shorter strike to Brandon Johnson moments later extended that lead by another seven.
At that point, however, the Broncos defense turned into the leakiest of dams, allowing the Commanders and their ultra-average quarterback, Sam Howell, to put up a touchdown and a field goal before intermission, and the onslaught continued in the second half. A touchdown. A missed field goal (the second of the afternoon). Another touchdown. And another touchdown. Suddenly, Denver's eighteen-point advantage had been turned into an eleven-point deficit that proved too difficult to overcome. In the waning minutes, Wilson and company produced a field goal and a touchdown of their own, but a two-point conversion to tie didn't materialize.
Yes, Courtland Sutton was a victim of interference on this final attempt, but referees typically swallow their whistles under such circumstances — and besides, Denver never should have been in that position. The defenders had one opportunity after another to stop Howell and running back Brian Robinson Jr., who scored two of the TDs, but the only thing they succeeded in changing was the satisfied expression on Joseph's face.
The comparison of the Broncos' embarrassment to the University of Colorado Buffaloes' performance against the unexpectedly goonish CSU Rams the previous night is as inescapable as it is exasperating. The Buffs didn't perform as anticipated, but somehow were able to emerge with a crazy victory. And the Broncos? Not so much.
Afterward, commentators weighing in on X (fka Twitter) came after Joseph with a vengeance, and understandably so. During the past several years, the Denver defense was rightfully lauded as the franchise's only effective unit. Now, it's the main reason the Broncos are 0-2 rather than 2-0.
Joseph was fired as Denver's head coach on December 31, 2018 — and plenty of folks are aching for a repeat of that particular New Year's Eve. See what we mean in our picks for the twenty most memorable post-game takes:
SAME YEARS OF BRONCOS GAMES.. WILSON? VANCE JOSEPH, CAN LEAVE COLORADO AGAIN...— ImColorado1 (@Colorado1Im) September 18, 2023
Seriously WHO thought going back to Vance Joseph was a great idea? man has absolutely trashed this defense lol. #BroncosCountry— RED Komodo (@JKarrCinema) September 18, 2023
Two words. Vance Joseph!!!— BRONCO JEFF 26 (@jeff92809796) September 18, 2023
Russell Wilson had three really long completions and two of them were touchdowns. He cooked but Vance Joseph pooped in the kitchen :(— Shane (@shanehall31) September 18, 2023
@Broncos— Sean Snyder (@wolfsny66) September 18, 2023
Fire Vance Joseph. NOW.
Fire Vance Joseph Again!— Aaron Gonzalez (@daaman81) September 18, 2023
If the #broncos do not win in Miami next week, Vance Joseph should not be on the plane back to Denver. Enough is enough. Bad hire by Sean Payton.— عاطف داؤد (@aTiFdAwOoD) September 18, 2023
The problem is Vance Joseph. Everyone wants to blame HC but this team clearly has better structure.— R (@IAmRonnieD) September 18, 2023
However, VJ defense is super basic and outdated - we won’t get anywhere with him running the D.
Makes me pissed knowing we could have had Fangio - only to know that he didn’t…
Everyone hates Vance Joseph.— go broncos tbh (@GoBroncosTBH) September 18, 2023
But I love the fact that I’ll get to see my team fire him twice tbh.
This right here problem #1 no excuse for losing an 18pt lead, FIRE VANCE JOSEPH! pic.twitter.com/mjv7U5niYi— Bad Lander to the Bone (@Rockeendaganja) September 18, 2023
The Defense plain and simple. Buckle up folks its going to be a loooong season. Rehiring Vance Joseph as D coordinator could be the final straw for Broncos fans. Empty seats by week 5— Emerson Wood (@emersonswood) September 18, 2023
Broncos country , Vance Joseph defense is going to cost us more NFL games if he can't make adjustments in the second half. We see the cracks reforming in the Vance Joseph defense in the second half. We need to make a move down the road before it gets a lot worse than it is now.— Michael Ronquillo (@Michael23426753) September 18, 2023
The worst part about it is that the players have remained the same, relative to the personnel— Jordan Lopez (@JordanTLopez) September 18, 2023
Vance Joseph has ran this unit into the ground. Evero and co. would have these boys buzzing https://t.co/Fon0PF6gzh
POV: You're Vance Joseph and you let the Commanders score 30+ points pic.twitter.com/myoGHvqYn2— russell wilson enthusiast (@OneilCruz412) September 18, 2023
Vic Fangio knew what he was doing when he declined Broncos' interest and went to Miami. He was not going to return to a franchise that didn't give him enough resources to succeed as head coach. Instead Denver had to settle for a Vance Joseph who leaves fields wide open.— Ethan Culver (@ethanlculver) September 18, 2023
Fixed the Hackett problem.— JWills (@itsjwills) September 18, 2023
Have a Vance Joseph problem.
How about the Broncos promote Vance Joseph to head coach for just the rest of this season to ensure 0-17 and Caleb Williams. Then Sean comes back with a real QB. Then you can keep Jeudy. #Broncos— Carson Orvis (@carson_orvis) September 18, 2023
Day 1 of asking the @Broncos to fire Vance Joseph— DB (@DBfan116) September 18, 2023
Fire Vance Joseph please and thank you— 5280Ray (@AjCOYS) September 18, 2023