DENVER (AP) - The Broncos have been busted, their coach and front office fined $100,000 and their video director fired.
Now comes the hard part for the red-faced franchise that has lost 16 of 21 games and plenty of fans. They fell to 3-8 Sunday with a 36-33 loss to St. Louis at Invesco Field, where the crowd was mostly gone by the time the Broncos scored 20 fourth-quarter points.
The Broncos pledged to restore a sullied reputation as they try to convince skeptics, as they did the NFL, that Steve Scarnecchia acted alone in filming a practice by the San Francisco 49ers in London last month and that nobody ordered him to do it or viewed the incriminating tape.
Even before the team's integrity was thrown into question and the NFL's annual overseas crown jewel smudged with what's been dubbed McSpygate, the Broncos' fan base was flustered over a yearlong slide exacerbated by a series of moves by embattled coach Josh McDaniels that have backfired, most notably the trade of Peyton Hillis to Cleveland for Brady Quinn.
Many are wondering why McDaniels was allowed to hire a buddy who had already run afoul of the league's rules back in New England and why he didn't do anything about it when Scarnecchia brought him an illicit 6-minute snippet of the 49ers practice.
McDaniels said he didn't look at it, and the Broncos lost to San Francisco 24-16 the next day.
On Sunday, McDaniels declined to respond during his postgame news conference to a report by Fox Sports that he told staff members in a meeting Friday that the Broncos' scandal wasn't on the same magnitude as the systemic illicit videotaping that happened in New England.
"I'm not going to talk about any reports or anything like that," McDaniels said, cutting off the question. "We addressed that all yesterday. I'm done with that. I'm done talking about that. OK? Thanks."
However, McDaniels did address the issue with NBC, which reported him as saying: "I didn't try to minimize what we did at all. What we did was very serious and I feel bad it's being represented that I have any inside knowledge of the New England situation because I really don't."
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wants to meet in the next several days with Scarnecchia, who faces banishment from the league. The NFL says he's a repeat offender after being part of the Patriots' staff that was found to have broken rules by filming opposing coaches' signals in the last decade.
The league's investigation of the Broncos determined this was an isolated incident and that nobody had ordered it or viewed it. However, Goodell could reopen the probe and levy heavier punishment if his meeting with Scarnecchia provides information to the contrary.
The Patriots were fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and stripped of a first-round draft pick after the league ruled that they had taped the New York Jets coaches in the 2007 opener against NFL rules.
Scarnecchia, whose father, Dante, is the Patriots' offensive line coach, was working for the Jets at the time after spending five seasons in New England. He had joined the Patriots in 2001, the same year McDaniels joined their coaching staff.
After leaving the Patriots, Scarnecchia worked briefly at the University of Colorado and then for the Jets. When McDaniels became the Broncos coach in 2009, he hired Scarnecchia as his video operations director.
McDaniels said he saw no red flags Scarnecchia's resume and intimated he knew nothing of his previous rules infraction in the Patriots' videotaping scandal.
"There are a lot of things that I have no knowledge of, relative to that situation," McDaniels said Saturday. "I think that is a league issue and certainly there were a lot of things that none of us were privy to regarding that. And this situation is in no way reflective of that."
Broncos chief operating officer Joe Ellis, who speaks for team owner Pat Bowlen, said that when Scarnecchia was hired in the spring of 2009, "we were aware of some allegations, not the specifics," of his involvement in the original Spygate scandal.
"I would say this: He knew full well what was expected from him in terms of the types of behavior we would expect out of him, what Josh stood for, what Mr. Bowlen stood for, what the Denver Broncos stood for, how we conducted ourselves," Ellis said. "It's disappointing that he chose the wrong path when he was in London. But he was fully aware of the standards here."
NFL Executive Vice President Jeff Pash defended the Broncos' hiring of Scarnecchia.
"It's not the worst thing that someone does, to give another person a second chance," Pash said. "And it's unfortunate to do that and be proved wrong."
Ellis said the Broncos didn't have all the information on Scarnecchia at the time he was hired.
"I don't know that we were clear as to whether he was a first-time offender," Ellis said. "I think there was some awareness that he was involved with New England Patriots videotaping in the years that he was employed there, because that's what he did. But it was made clear to him that whatever he practiced there was not going to be practiced here."
So, why would Scarnecchia take an illegal video to McDaniels knowing he was already a first-time offender and that the Broncos didn't do business that way?
Scarnecchia hasn't been available for comment since his firing Saturday. His voice mailbox is full.
The league fined McDaniels for not reporting the infraction immediately as required by NFL rules relating to the integrity of the game, requirements of which McDaniels was fully aware.
"He didn't want to see the video," Ellis said. "He informed Scarnecchia of that. He told him, 'This is not the way we do business.' That was the end of it for him. He should have known, but he didn't, or he forgot or he just didn't know, that based on the league's integrity of the game policy, he was required to come forward at that time."
Asked why fans should believe McDaniels after this infraction, Ellis said: "I believe that the evidence that's come forward here is truthful. There's been a tremendous amount of investigating that's been done. Obviously, it took a long time. The evidence suggests that, yes, he made a mistake, but he did the right thing to turn away from it, not allow the employee to show him, told the employee the team's philosophy.
"Hopefully, the fans will understand that and we'll do better on the field, and from there we'll begin to earn back their trust."
This is not the first time Bowlen has found his team at the center of controversy. The Broncos were penalized for violating salary cap rules back in the 1990s when they were winning Super Bowls under Mike Shanahan.
"Mr. Bowlen has been a good owner for the National Football League for 27 seasons here in Denver," Ellis said. "He's been a good citizen for Denver. These instances, they're separate and apart."