It's finally over.
A season that started with a baffling 64-yard field goal try on Monday Night Football; one that saw nine losses by one-score or less; one that had a league-high 27 players placed on injured reserve; one that the coach only lasted 15 games; one that was the worst of quarterback Russell Wilson's career, is finally over.
And it ended with a win, as the Broncos (5-12) beat the playoff-bound Chargers (10-7) 31-28 Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High.
"It felt great to win. I think ending the season on a positive was a big objective for us," safety and team captain Justin Simmons said. "It still doesn't take away that the season was tough and was hard, and obviously not what any of us wanted — players, coaches, fans.
"But I know we're headed in the right direction."
Denver's win was meaningless for both teams. The Chargers already knew their fate, having clinched the fifth seed in the playoffs. And the Broncos' season has been over for weeks, with interim coach Jerry Rosburg taking over Dec. 26 after Nathaniel Hackett was fired.
Still, as they've done most of the season, the Broncos played hard. They had their best offensive performance, with Wilson throwing three touchdowns, running back Latavius Murray rushing for 103 yards and a score and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy having a season-high 154 receiving yards, marking him just 18 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season. And the defense did what it's done all season, getting stops and forcing turnovers, with Simmons forcing two fumbles and undrafted rookie cornerback Ja'Quan McMillian nearly having his first career interception.
"I'm really happy for them," Rosburg said. "It's hard to describe the feeling I have for those guys."
The Broncos' focus now shifts to what will be a busy offseason. They're set to have 25 free agents hit the market. And they're soon going to have a new coach, the search already underway.
Those were the top topics in the locker room after the game, instead of the game itself. Most players who will soon be free agents expressed their hope to be back in Denver. And nearly every player shared their thoughts on the coaching search, with the defensive players hoping defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero and his staff are back next season, no matter the hire.
Then there was Wilson, who took questions at podium for nearly 30 minutes over an hour after the game. Wilson touched on everything from his own disappointing play to the coaching search to Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who is still in the hospital after a scary injury Monday night.
Wilson was long-winded and full of clichés, but he was also insightful and hyperaware, showing humility in the way he played this season and offering hope for the future.
"You're trying to find that magic within every game, every play, every moment. Sometimes, you've got to keep searching for it," Wilson said. "I feel like I fell short of my own standards, my own level of expectations... I just want to re-capture that."
Wilson needs to re-capture that magic if the Broncos want to be successful not only next season, but for years to come. Their downfall this season was largely because Wilson didn't play up to expectations. In fact, he didn't just have a "down year" he had the worst season of his career, throwing a career-low 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions, which is tied for the second-most in a single season in his career.
When the Broncos traded multiple draft picks and three players to the Seahawks for Wilson, they thought they were getting a nine-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion. Wilson was far from that, and still, there is hope he can be that for the Broncos — because he has to be.
"I have no hesitation to think that Russ won't have a Pro-Bowl, All-Pro type season next year," said receiver Courtland Sutton, who caught his only touchdown this season Sunday. "Yeah, things didn't go the way we wanted this year. Guys are going to point fingers and try this and that all offseason... We know the kind of preparation he puts in. We know how much he cares about this game, how much he cares about the guys around him.
"I have no doubt he's going to bounce back next year."
Wilson did finish the season with a couple of his best performances, with the offense finally finding some rhythm in the final two weeks against the Chiefs and Chargers. And his teammates have backed him all season, despite the heavy criticism outside Denver's locker room. He said that's been the most rewarding part of this disappointing season and why he has so much faith next year will be better — because of the players in that locker room.
He made sure to thank his teammates as he ended his press conference, along with the Broncos front office. He said this season has been "humbling," but then proceeded to promise bring "championships" to Denver. That's a hefty promise after this type of season.
But Wilson has never lacked confidence. And that's going to change next season, in what will likely be a make-it-or-break-it year for his career.
"We're going to do a lot more winning coming up here in the near future," Wilson said. "Season 12 for me and Year 2 here, begins tomorrow morning at 5:30 a.m."
Broncos Country, set your alarm clocks, and get ready to ride in 2023.