If there was ever a wakeup call, this was it.
The Denver Broncos got owned in every facet imaginable by the Atlanta Falcons. On both lines of scrimmage, offensively, defensively, special teams and, perhaps most surprising, coaching in the 23-16 loss at Mile High.
The last time the Broncos looked this lost was at home last season against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The positive is that games like this happen. No matter how good a team is, or thinks it is, days like this are inevitable. As is the case with the good days, teams have to stay somewhere in the middle. The old NFL adage is you don’t get too high with the wins or too low with the losses.
There is no doubt this is a shock, and not at all expected. But this is a veteran team and coaching staff that knows how to move on and respond. To steal a line from a rival coach, with slight alterations, “We’re on to San Diego.”
Mama said there would be days like this....wow, just awful day for #Broncos all the way around.— Cecil Lammey (@CecilLammey) October 9, 2016
Hopefully Broncos Country can do the same. Keep in mind, it’s only Week 5. On top of that, this was a non-conference game. So in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s all about how the Broncos respond. And they’re still 4-1.
With all the pride in that locker room, you can bet your ass this team will come out Thursday against the Chargers pissed off. Teams hate the short turnaround for the Thursday Night games, but this may benefit Denver. There is no time to think about this loss. The Broncos will get right to work on San Diego and what they need to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
That doesn’t excuse the awful play from a litany of players, and that includes Paxton Lynch. Denver’s rookie quarterback looked every bit a rookie. He was indecisive, held the ball too long, overthrew receivers and had Peyton Manning “happy feet.” He wasn’t as good as he or Denver needs. Lynch knows that. By all accounts, he came off the field very emotional and disappointed.
Yet that line “looked every part of a rookie” holds true for the majority of this team; especially on offense. Most of them are veterans. To put this succinctly: the Broncos offense was downright offensive.
Broncos FB/RBs, Weeks 1-2:— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) October 9, 2016
54 carries, 255 yds., 4.7 YPC
Broncos FB/RBs, Weeks 3-5 (w/o Stephenson, Green):
62 carries, 182 yds., 2.9 YPC
Denver’s “right tackle” doesn’t deserve to have his name mentioned here. The Broncos would have been better to play no one at that position on Sunday. If there’s any chance that Donald Stephenson plays on Thursday, he has to play. As that tweet from Andrew Mason highlights, the running game has been nonexistent since Stephenson was injured.
The aspect of Sunday’s performance against the Falcons that raises eyebrows is the defense. Atlanta’s running backs accounted for 286 of the team's 372 yards. Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman touched the ball 36 times. The rest of the Falcons offense had 11 touches for 86 yards.
The Broncos won’t win many games with stats like that. I’ve felt for over a season the biggest “weakness” of this defense is covering running backs and tight ends. With the success the Falcons had in that area on Sunday, opposing teams will now look to mimic it. Will the Broncos have an answer?
Yet despite all of that, this is still just one game. With how horrid this performance was - and the stench will last the rest of the night no matter how many candles you light - Denver is still 4-1.
Games like this happen. When they do, it’s all about how a team responds.
The Broncos have received their wakeup call on Sunday. Will they answer? The last time they were in this situation, they won nine straight games.