It wasn't long ago that the Denver Broncos were considered one of the league's model franchises. They seemingly had it all: New stadium, supportive owner, rabid fan base and a long history of competing for the Super Bowl.
Now, a little more than a year after a 6-0 start to the 2009 season, the Broncos are in disarray.
Raiders defensive end Jarvis Moss had a first-hand view of the team's unraveling as a member of the Broncos from 2007 through the first nine games of this season. He said the Broncos were thinking big after their blistering start last season under first-year coach Josh McDaniels.
"Any team that can start off the season 6-0, yeah, you're riding pretty high," Moss said. "That's pretty hard to do in this league. It was a good situation. It's kind of hard to believe how far downhill it went after that."
McDaniels was fired last week, replaced by Eric Studesville. Didn't help, as the Broncos were whacked 43-13 by the Arizona Cardinals.
Moss said it's difficult to "pinpoint one specific event" that saddled the Broncos. Trading Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler, Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall and promising running back Peyton Hillis, losing standout linebacker Elvis Dumervil to injury and drafting poorly all appear to be taking a toll. Cutler has guided the Chicago Bears to a 9-4 record this season. Marshall posted back-to-back years with at least 100 catches before being traded to Miami, and Hillis has run for 1,070 yards for the Cleveland Browns this season.
"Some of those moves, you're kind of like, 'Well, that guy's a damn good player. We could use him,' " said Moss, who was released by Denver on Nov. 17 and signed with the Raiders a week later. "Of course, as a player and a teammate you think that, but at the same time, that's all you are, a player. They handle that kind of stuff upstairs, and it's unfortunate that some of the players they let go, they probably could have really been helping out this year."
The Broncos are 3-10 heading into Sunday's game at the Oakland Coliseum. A Raiders' victory would complete their first season sweep of the Broncos since 2002. It also would ensure Oakland finishing ahead of Denver in the AFC West for the first time in eight seasons.
Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd said the team expected to be much better than it is now.
"This year didn't seem to me a rebuilding year," Lloyd said. "That's not how I was looking at it. I felt like we were in a position where we could win a lot of games."
The Broncos have lost eight of their past nine, including 59-14 to the Raiders on Oct. 24. The 59 points are the most ever allowed by the Broncos. They are the most scored by the Raiders in 51 years.
Studesville said he sees signs that point to the Broncos bouncing back next season. Just the same, he is guarding against things getting even worse.
"We're working so that it doesn't build in that direction," he said. "We're trying to do everything we can to stop that at this point and time."
There's even talk of bringing back Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway, the Broncos' most famous player, in some capacity.
Raiders right guard Cooper Carlisle played in Denver for his first seven NFL seasons before he left via free agency after 2006. He said it's tough to grasp what's going on in a place that once symbolized stability and sustained success.
"Everything seems to be different," he said. "The expectations were usually pretty high, and we certainly expected good things of ourselves every year."
Notes: Defensive tackle Richard Seymour (knee), cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (ankle), linebacker Rolando McClain (foot) and receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins (ankle) missed practice Wednesday. "... Quarterback Jason Campbell said he feels fine for it being so late in the season, other than the stinger he suffered against the Jaguars on Sunday. Asked if his condition has improved since that game, he said, "I can't talk about it." "... The Raiders signed rookie defensive tackle David Howard to the practice squad. He was taken in the seventh round of the draft in April by the Tennessee Titans. He got cut toward the end of training camp. Howard fills the void created by the departure of rookie defensive tackle Kellen Heard, who was signed by the Buffalo Bills off the Raiders practice squad.