When All-Pro outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle in training camp, hard times seemed inevitable for the defense — and the Broncos as a whole.

But no one could have foreseen what followed — a 4-12 nightmare that saw head coach Josh McDaniels dismissed after 12 games, a defense that was the league’s worst and, most damaging of all, a scandal that erupted after team video director Steve Scarnecchia left a camera running at London’s Wembley Stadium to record a 49ers walk-through the day before their game.

“This cuts into the trust of so many different constituents,” said Joe Ellis, the team’s chief operating officer at the time.

All that doesn’t even mention a 59-14 loss to the Raiders that was the Broncos’ worst at home since before the AFL-NFL merger and featured perhaps the worst single moment of play in Broncos history: a 64-second first-quarter stretch in which the Raiders scored three touchdowns while the Broncos turned over the football twice.

By the time McDaniels was dismissed — “There wasn’t any point in delaying it,” Ellis said — all that was left was for the Broncos to try and reclaim their dignity and begin putting the pieces together to rebuild. Interim head coach Eric Studesville was the right man to begin that process, and he restored order to guide the Broncos to a 17-point comeback for a Week 16 win over Houston that provided a ray of light amid the gloom.

Strudesville cleansed the organization of the bitter aftertaste left from the last months of the McDaniels era. That helped establish the first-year Broncos coach in the organization, and he endured through the subsequent changes and remained the team’s running backs coach into 2016.

But for fundamental change, and to restore the luster of the Broncos in the community, there was only one name that mattered. And when reports leaked late in the 2010 season that the Broncos were talking to John Elway about returning to run the club’s football operations, Denver held its breath with anticipation.

Less than a week after the depressing season ended, Elway became the Broncos’ executive vice president of football operations. And as the next few seasons of glory would prove, one cliché is true: It really is darkest before the dawn.

2010 Schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/12 at Jacksonville Jaguars 17-24
9/19 Seattle Seahawks 31-14
9/26 indianapolis colts 13-27
10/3 at tennessee titans 26-20
10/10 at baltimore ravens 17-31
10/17 new york jets 20-24
10/24 oakland raiders 14-59
10/31 at san francisco 49ers (in London) 16-24
11/14 kansas city chiefs 49-29
11/22 at san diego chargers 14-35
11/28 st. louis rams 33-36
12/5 at kansas city chiefs 6-10
12/12 at arizona cardinals 13-43
12/19 at oakland raiders 23-29
12/26 houston texans 24-23
1/2 san diego chargers 28-33

2010 Offense

Pos Player Starts
WR Brandon Lloyd 11
LT Ryan Clady 16
LG Zane Beadles 8
C J.D. Walton 16
RG Chris Kuper 16
RT Ryan Harris 10
TE Daniel Graham 16
WR Jabar Gaffney 11
QB Kyle Orton 16
RB Knowshon Moreno 16
FB Spencer Larsen 16
P Britton Colquitt 16
PK Matt Prater 12
KRet Eric Decker 16
PRet Eddie Royal 16

Champ Bailey was selected to his 10th career Pro Bowl – the most in NFL history at the cornerback position.

2010 defense

Pos Player Starts
dl justin bannan 16
de ryan mcbean 4
de kevin vickerson 12
dl marcus thomas 2
nt jamal williams 16
ilb joe mays 4
ilb d.j. williams 15
ilb wesley woodyard 3
lb mario haggan 16
olb robert ayers 10
olb jason hunter 12
cb champ bailey 15
cb perrish cox 9
cb andré goodman 8
db nate jones 3
s david bruton 2
s brian dawkins 11
s renaldo hill 16
s darcel mcbath 1

Record: 4-12
fourth place, AFC west