Twenty-one months ago, John Elway was basking in a confetti shower as he put his fingerprints on the third Super Bowl trophy he's captured for the Denver Broncos and dedicated it to team owner Pat Bowlen, who's battling Alzheimer's.
Not much has gone right for Elway and the Broncos since that night in Northern California.
Gary Kubiak resigned.
Peyton Manning retired.
Brock Osweiler bolted.
Mark Sanchez bombed.
Paxton Lynch flopped.
C.J. Anderson crumbled.
Brandon McManus missed.
Russell Okung exited.
DeMarcus Ware departed.
Wade Phillips left.
Calais Campbell snubbed.
Trevor Siemian struggled.
Vance Joseph dawdled.
Brock Olivo ducked.
Mike McCoy pink-slipped.
Kubiak fell ill after a 4-0 start last season and the Broncos haven't been an elite team since. They've won just eight of their past 22 games and are mired in a six-game losing streak, their longest single-season skid since 1990.
That's a measly .363 winning percentage for a franchise that's been to two of the past four Super Bowls.
If they can't turn things around Sunday in Oakland with Bill Musgrave calling the shots and Lynch the plays , they'll have their biggest nosedive since losing a franchise-worst nine straight in 1967.
A half century ago.
Elway's mantra of "winning now and from now on" needs an update to an Al Davis-like "Just win one, baby."
Instability has finally caught up to the Broncos, who have been a picture of change really throughout Elway's seven seasons as general manager with four offensive coordinators (five if you count McCoy's two stints), four defensive coordinators, three head coaches and now six quarterbacks.
That kind of constant change can crimp the growth and mitigate the impact of draft classes.
The Broncos' five-year reign as AFC West champs that began when Elway rejoined his beloved Broncos as the chief of football operations in 2011 ended last season with a 9-7 mark.
When Kubiak stepped down, Denver's vacancy was seen as the most desirable opening in the league because of its championship-caliber defense and the perceived need only to reboot, not rebuild.
Their fade last season proved more foreboding than fluke, however.
They started strong in September again, taking a 3-1 record and visions of another Super Bowl run into their bye week and they haven't won since.
Elway chimed last weekend as the Broncos were preparing to host the Bengals. At an event at the stadium Friday night honoring the late Red Miller and Hall of Famer Terrell Davis, Elway took a calculated dig at his team .
"To be dead honest with you, we got a little bit soft," Elway declared. "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."
After the Broncos lost to the Bengals at home for the first time since 1975, Joseph said Elway's insult initially offended him but he quickly realized his boss was right.
This defense isn't special anymore. No team has surrendered more touchdown passes than the 22 Denver has allowed.
The offense is bogged down again by mental mistakes and turnovers.
In a 25-point loss to New England, special teams blunders led to 24 points for the Patriots, who have now outscored the Broncos 57-19 in Denver since losing the AFC title game here two years ago in the final installment of Manning vs. Brady.
Although the Broncos have been outscored 185-85 during their skid, several players said calling them soft was uncalled for.
"I understand this is his team and he put it together, so his name is on it, but it's our skin in the game," linebacker Brandon Marshall said.
"Nobody is soft on this team. We work our butt off and we work hard. We play hard and we go out there and give it 100 percent every game and every practice. We just fall short."
Miller, though, said he couldn't argue with Elway's point.
"That's the type of team that we've developed into," Miller said. "That's what we got. It's the truth. He's telling the truth."
But was he telling the whole truth?
Some didn't think he was taking enough responsibility.
"Everybody in this organization is accountable for how we are playing right now," suggested star cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
That includes Elway, who hasn't drafted an All-Pro since 2011 and who has a spotty record in free agency ever since Manning went from main attraction to fellow NFL alum.
Elway's words did result in plenty of self-assessments, including his own.
"I was talking about everybody in the organization and the track record we have," Elway said Tuesday on the Broncos' in-house radio show. "When you've had success sometimes you get soft. I'd put myself at the front."
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