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Broncos outplayed, out-planned in loss to Falcons, but time to move on

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Normally a short week is a tough turnaround in the NFL, but sometimes it’s the best thing after a stinging loss.

Atlanta Falcons v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Broncos found themselves on the losing side of the game equation Sunday for the first time in a long time, and they don’t like it very much.

So don’t expect them to do that again any time soon.

"We got our butts kicked today," said Emmanuel Sanders after the game, who still put up solid numbers with seven catches for 80 yards.

And that’s exactly what they plan to do.

Despite reporters’ attempts to make players name their preferred quarterback for the next game, Sanders pointed out the real problem - bad play all around.

"I think overall as a team, we didn’t play so well," Sanders said. "It’s not on Paxton. It has absolutely nothing to do with Paxton. It’s about the team. Offensively, defensively, special teams - we just didn’t bring our A-game today."

That was a bit of an understatement, but Sanders also defended the Broncos’ rough game by pointing out that sometimes the other team just plays better.

"They were playing good defense. Sometimes you guys [the media] point the finger at us offensively, but [the Falcons] had a great scheme," No. 10 noted. "They were playing straight Cover-3, and we just couldn’t find the windows."

Coach Gary Kubiak, who was hospitalized following the game for flu-like symptoms that have since been diagnosed as a complex migraine condition, pointed out the same thing – the Falcons executed a lot better.

Kubiak acknowledged that asking a rookie quarterback to come back from a 13-point deficit is far less than ideal for a first NFL start. "We put him in a really tough situation. That’s not the type of game you want to put him in," the coach said.

And unfortunately there was a lot of credit to give.

Facing the No Fly Zone, the Falcons offense used running backs and tight ends to stymie the Broncos D by forcing inside linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis to cover most of the plays.

It worked well for Atlanta, not so well for Denver.

"I have to go back and look at the film, but for their backs to get down the field the way they did is going to take some time," Kubiak said, adding that you can’t ask B-Marsh and Davis to "hold up that long."

While the Falcons had both a good game plan and good execution, the Broncos seemed to have neither.

"Their backs had a good day, running and catching," T.J. Ward said. "We can’t have that if we want to be an elite defense."

And while the defense was getting run over by running back Devonta Freeman’s 88 rushing yards and running back Tevin Coleman’s 134 receiving yards, Kubiak stayed committed to a non-existent run game the same way Paxton Lynch stayed committed to non-developing pass plays – neither would let it go.

"We were committed to running the ball today and tried to do that early," Kubiak said. "We did not run the ball well."

Nor did the team play offense very well – earning just shy of 270 yards of total offense the entire game while allowing six sacks to Lynch and converting just four of 16 third-down conversions.

Or play defense very well – giving up 122 yards rushing plus 267 yards passing by the Falcons.

Or play tackling all that well – allowing an average of six yards per play.

After Atlanta’s "Matt Ryan Julio Jones Show" last week, most thought the wide receiver would be the prime target, but Falcons coach Dan Quinn is not an idiot. He knows the what the No Fly Zone can do - which for the most part it did, holding Jones to a paltry two catches for 29 yards.

"We knew we would do that [shut down Jones]. The way we play coverage on him, it was going to be hard for him to be successful," Ward noted. "But when you do things like that, you leave other areas of the field open, and they took advantage of them."

Quinn planned most of his offense away from the No Fly Zone, and it worked.

But no matter. Chris Harris Jr.  says the defense learned its lesson.

So there was plenty of blame to spread around for the loss but blame doesn’t win the next one, so players are "on to San Diego" where they’ll play Thursday Night Football against an always-tough-at-home Chargers team.

Just don’t ask Von Miller if Sunday’s loss is more motivation to win on Thursday.

That’s the wrong answer.

"You really shouldn’t have to motivate grown men to come out here and play the game that we love. We’re already motivated. Me personally, I’m already motivated," Miller said, adding it starts with practicing harder, especially on a short week. "The harder we work, the luckier we get."

Ward pointed out that the defense doesn’t need to "change" anything for its upcoming opponents. It needs to do what it does well a whole lot better than it did yesterday.

"We’re a tough defense. We don’t go in and change our whole game plan at halftime. We stick to our guns and do what we do," Ward said. "We’re not going to change that approach; we’re just going to get better at what we do. …We’re looking forward to the Chargers."

Motivation or not, losses always have a way of recalibrating a team better than anything else.

As far as the 1-4 Chargers are concerned, a 4-1 Broncos team might just be a lot worse to face than a 5-0 Broncos team would have been.

"Would I like to win the game, yes. Would I like to go undefeated every season, yes," said Miller, adding that those are tough odds to beat in the NFL. "We lost a game like this last year to Indy around the same time. This team, we have a resilient team. We have character in the locker room; we’ll be able to bounce back. I feel comfortable with our chances."

And with that old-school "D" on the helmets for the color rush game?

San Diego won’t stand a chance.