DENVER (AP) — Broncos General Manager John Elway defended his embattled rookie head coach and his staff while blaming his underachieving players for Denver's five-game skid losing streak.
"At the end of the year we'll evaluate it and we'll look back and see what happened. But I will tell you, I think we got a little bit soft," Elway said Friday night. "To be dead honest with you, we got a little bit soft. We went 4-0 in the preseason, we started out 3-1, then we get a bye week and if you exhale in this league, you're in trouble.
"To be dead honest with you, I think we exhaled and it's hard to recover from that. So, it's a lesson that hopefully we all learned and prevent it from happening again."
These were Elway's first public comments since the skid started with a shocking loss to the previously winless Giants when the Broncos were coming off a bye week. The skid eventually cost quarterback Trevor Siemian his starting job.
Brock Osweiler will make his third start Sunday when the Broncos face the Cincinnati Bengals in a matchup of 3-6 teams fighting to stay relevant.
Elway said he hasn't lost faith in his head coach, former Bengals assistant Vance Joseph, who brought a single season's experience as a coordinator to Denver when he replaced Gary Kubiak a year after the Broncos' win in Super Bowl 50.
"Nope. You're know there's going to be growing pains in the head coach and especially the first-time head coach," Elway said, adding that Joe Woods on defense and Brock Olivo on special teams are both first-time coordinators.
"So, there's growing pains there. Just like with players, you've got to give them a chance to grow and get better and learn from certain situations," Elway said. "Obviously, it's been a little bit tougher situation, but sometimes you learn a lot more in tougher situations than you do when things are going good.
"So, Vance in my mind is doing just fine and continuing to get these guys to fight hard and the energy is still there, so we'll work our way through it."
Elway praised Joseph for not panicking and continuing to press ahead during the skid.
The Broncos have been outscored by 97 points during the skid, their worst such slump since 1961.
Of the 300 minutes in this wretched five-game stretch, the Broncos have held the lead a measly 4½ minutes.
"You're going to lose football games in this league, but the way that it's gone about in not being competitive is probably the thing that concerns me the most," Elway said.
With the season turning sour, some fans are calling for the Broncos to play former first-round draft pick Paxton Lynch to see for certain if he's a bust or just a late-bloomer after soundly losing out to Siemian two summers in a row.
Elway may want to see that, too, but he demurred when pressed.
"I mean this when I say this: I'm not looking past Sunday. We're going to take it one day at a time. When you're in these type of things that's all you can do," Elway said. "Everyone has an answer, everybody's got a solution, but the bottom line is those aren't that easy. And the bottom line is how you get out of these things, you've got to work hard day in and day out and so that's why we're not seeing Paxton (Sunday)."
Elway might turn his eye toward the rich crop of quarterbacks in next year's draft, but he's not ready to reboot just yet.
He said he still believes in this team.
"I think we have the right type of players, they're working hard, the desire's still there. They know the expectations and we're not out of this yet," Elway said. "So, we're not going to say never until they say you're no longer in this hunt. And so we've got to start on Sunday playing well against the Bengals."