Studesville was overseeing the league's third-worst run offense, which makes his elevation to the head job - albeit on an interim basis - an interesting one. His prized pupil, 2009 first-round pick Knowshon Moreno, has just two career 100-yard rushing games - both in the past four weeks.
Can Studesville motivate a reeling team that knows he doesn't wield a powerful stick over the final month of the season? Studesville's coaching career began at Wingate in 1994, and he broke into the NFL with Chicago in 1997. He joined McDaniels' staff this year after six years in Buffalo.
"I am very appreciative of the trust that Mr. Bowlen and the entire Denver Broncos organization have shown in me," Studesville said in a statement. "Although the circumstances that this opportunity resulted from are unfortunate, I am excited to lead this football team. We have a great group of players and coaches who are committed to finishing the season on a promising note and making our fans proud of this team."
McDaniels failed to receive a strong endorsement from Bowlen as the season spiraled out of control, and the Broncos' 22-game stretch is their worst since the franchise went 3-17-2 during the 1970-71 seasons.
"My decision to relieve Josh McDaniels as head coach was not taken lightly. I will always be appreciative of his passion, enthusiasm and hard work, and I thank him for his efforts," Bowlen said in a statement.
"In the end, I was not satisfied with the results and the direction this team was headed. The decision to make a change was extremely difficult but one that needed to be made for this organization and our fans.
"Everyone, myself included, is accountable for our disappointing season and is now responsible for restoring the culture of winning that has been established by this franchise. Our entire organization is completely focused on returning to the level of prosperity that our fans expect and deserve from the Denver Broncos."
Denver will miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive year, its worst stretch since waiting from the franchise's 1960 berth until its Super Bowl run in 1977 to even make the playoffs.
McDaniels lasted less than two full seasons in Denver after being hired by Bowlen to replace coach Mike Shanahan. The former Patriots offensive coordinator was just 32 years old when he was hired by Denver.
The Broncos will begin playing out the string with games at Arizona and Oakland before finishing at home with Houston and San Diego.
The Kansas City loss Sunday embodied Denver's season. The team holds the Chiefs to a touchdown and stifles the passing attack, but Kansas City's run game helps control the clock with 39 carries for 185 yards and a 15-minute edge in time of possession.
The Broncos get a career day out of Moreno with 23 carries for 161 yards, but Kyle Orton completes just nine passes for 117 yards and no touchdowns.
"It's been that kind of season for us," wideout Jabar Gaffney said. "We haven't been very consistent and it shows. That's why our record is the way it is."
--Robert Ayers has played a reduced role in the two weeks he's been back off a foot injury that had sidelined him five games.
On Sunday, Ayers didn't start the game; instead, the Broncos turned to Jason Hunter at left outside linebacker.
"You've got to talk to Josh about that," Ayers said. "I just try to play hard when I'm in there. When I go in and come out is not up to me."
Coach Josh McDaniels seemed to chalk it up to Ayers' continued recovery after a long layoff. But now that Joe Mays (knee) is out for the season, expect Ayers to reclaim the starting job for good, with outside linebacker Mario Haggan forced to fill in for Mays at inside linebacker during the latter's absence.
--Denver played Sunday with several holes in the secondary, including the absence of three regulars.
The most notable replacement was David Bruton, started for Brian Dawkins at strong safety. But undrafted rookie Kyle McCarthy also played safety in dime packages, and rookie seventh-rounder Syd'Quan Thompson was the nickel corner.
"They did good," said cornerback Champ Bailey, who did his part by holding Dwayne Bowe without a catch. "I'm really proud of Bruton, man, stepping in. He did a good job, great communicating. He didn't have any errors."
Kansas City had five catches longer than 10 yards but none over 21 in completing 17 of 31 attempts for 196 yards.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--ILB Joe Mays was placed on injured reserve with a left knee injury. Mays had been starting of late, and the team was pleased with his aggressiveness both on defense and the kicking game. Mays' departure likely means Mario Haggan kicks back to middle linebacker from left outside linebacker.
--TE Dan Gronkowski's season ended due to a left ankle injury. Gronkowski had been used as the No. 2 tight end behind Daniel Graham. The move means an uptick in snaps for backup Richard Quinn, whose playing time has increased in recent weeks anyway.
--CB Andre Goodman has missed seven of the past nine games with a quadriceps/hip problem, but he could return for the Arizona game. The team was pleased with rookie Perrish Cox's performance in Goodman's spot, in particular Sunday, and given Goodman's long layoff, it wouldn't be surprising if Cox remains the starter and Goodman is eased back in nickel and dime packages.
--S Darcel McBath has a chance to practice fully this week after making it through just one workout last week with a thigh injury. McBath's absence -- coupled with that of S Brian Dawkins -- had pushed David Bruton into the starting lineup Sunday. McBath has had a litany of injuries the last two years and must prove he can stay healthy as Denver evaluates his role for 2011.
--WR Demaryius Thomas (ankle) and S Brian Dawkins (knee) are still going through the healing process and at this early juncture appear questionable for the Arizona game.
REPORT CARD VS. CHIEFS
PASSING OFFENSE: F -- Kansas City's ability to generate four-man pressure, and some mixed defensive looks, helped the Chiefs' cornerbacks take away Denver's outside receivers. The result: Kyle Orton on a brisk, blustery afternoon completed just nine passes. Brandon Lloyd hauled in just two of 11 passes thrown his way. It was the Broncos' worst passing performance this year, by far.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- All the attention on the outside allowed the Broncos to have some success running between the tackles. Knowshon Moreno not only had a career-best 161 yards, but it was the top performance ever by a Denver back at Arrowhead Stadium. Curiously, the running game was abandoned on the final three drives with the pass attack floundering.
PASS DEFENSE: A-minus -- Anyone wondering if CB Champ Bailey still ranked among the top tier at his position got an answer with red-hot Dwayne Bowe getting zero catches. Overall, Kansas City was limited to 196 yards through the air and one TD. But with a slew of injuries, Denver did just about the best it could playing youngsters David Bruton, Cox, Kyle McCarthy and Syd'Quan Thompson.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- It took Kansas City 39 carries to reach 185 yards, and the Broncos did manage a goal-line stand. But with Denver hoping to get the ball back for one last drive, it couldn't make the stops when it counted. Jamaal Charles' 6-yard run on the Chiefs' final possession on second-and-6 produced a key first down and eliminated any real opportunity for a comeback.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- There were no big plays by kickoff returner Eric Decker or punt returner Eddie Royal, who misplayed a desperation final catch that impeded any hopes of decent field position to set up a final Hail Mary. Matt Prater did hit both field-goal attempts.
COACHING: C-minus -- The Broncos gave tremendous effort in a lost season, which counts for something. But coach Josh McDaniels may have lost a chance to win the game with his decision to punt facing fourth-and-4 at Denver's own 39 with 2:32 left. The defense yielded a first down to the Chiefs. Denver got only one play in the final seconds as a result.
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