As in ... many, numerous, more than one.
We could start with the refs’ missed call on the play clock that’s easy to get mad about but not necessarily a game-changing mistake.
We could berate Marquette King for a 35-freaking-yard punt when he needed to pin Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs much deeper to help the defense.
We could complain about Shaquill Barrett not covering Demetrius Harris better and allowing a huge third-down conversion to keep a drive alive that lead to a go-ahead touchdown a few plays later.
We could debate whether zone or man coverage was the better call on 2nd-and-30 where Mahomes scrambled for what felt like 110 seconds and then hit Demarcus Robinson for a 23-yard gain.
We could bemoan the Broncos’ offense for going three-and-out at the worst possible moment with just over six minutes left, leading by just three.
Ummm...Case...Three-and-out was NOT the plan. https://t.co/L3d6VbbASw— Doctor of Words (and tights) (@docllv) October 2, 2018
But it doesn’t matter which one thing was more to blame because each reason by itself could have meant the loss just as one not occurring could have meant a win.
“We were winning,” Von Miller said. “We were playing pretty good defense. We had a great drive where we had a great stand at the goal line where we held them to three points. I think that was right after the half. Offense went down and scored. The energy was up. We were up by 10 and then let them score 14 straight.”
Maybe a penalty for delay of game and a 3rd-and-12 would have been just enough of a momentum-buster for the Chiefs to fail on their third-down conversion and be stymied in the comeback quest.
“That was crazy, man,” Chris Harris Jr. said. “It’s delay. It’s zero on the clock forever… That was a huge, huge no-call.”
Domata Peko was particularly annoyed about the potential impact, as he told Ryan Koenigsberg of BSN Denver.
“That’s the s*** that gets to me man, because you work your ass off all week and you battle and you battle—they’re a helluva team, and we kind of got after their ass today—but you get a bad call there, and they end up getting the first down on that. There has to be some consistency with the calls, man. ...That big one here at the end kind of cost us. You work your tail off all week, and it sucks that the game ends up in the hands of the refs. That pisses me off. ...They have to really clean that s*** up because it’s really f***ing up the game.”
There’s no way of knowing if Mahomes would have completed 3rd-and-12 the same frustratingly amazing way he completed 3rd-and-7, but it might have changed the play calls and could have had a very different outcome.
Or maybe not.
Without a penalty leading to a change of possession or taking away a go-ahead score, that missed call didn’t necessarily change who won the game.
The Broncos did that one all on their own.
After controlling the game, keeping “Showtime Mahomes” in check and staying one step ahead on scoring, it was really the Broncos offense that failed first.
By the end of the third quarter, the Broncos had just gone up 20-13 thanks to a Phillip Lindsay touchdown, and then the defense held KC to a three-and-out, causing Andy Reid to sit down next to his young QB for a pep talk.
After a gigantic 32-yard reception by Andy Janovich, the offense couldn’t take advantage in a costly drive, but Brandon McManus’ 46-yarder added some buffer before the Chiefs engineered a 12-play, six-minute drive to bring the game within three.
All the Broncos’ offense needed to do was what it had been doing most of the previous three quarters - control the clock, run the ball, get first downs.
It did none of those, choosing instead to go three-and-out at the worst possible time in the game.
The defense had just been on the field, chasing the elusive Mahomes all over the place, and now one minute later, it had to do it again.
It was where the game truly broke down for the Broncos.
“We’ve got to do a better job late in the game, we’re up by 10 points. We’ve got to put together a drive, we can’t go three and out,” quarterback Case Keenum said. “That one is kind of glaring in my mind right now. That’s what I want to watch, talk through my decision-making at that point.”
King followed with a 35-yard punt that put the Chiefs mid-field with 4:35 left in the game.
In other words, an eternity for the quarterback who could run across the field, have his legs wrapped up by Von Miller, then switch hands and “push” a throw to his receiver with his left hand and complete a first down.
“He’s fast. We’ve got to get him down. That’s just plain and simple,” Miller noted, who had two QB hits but zero sacks. “He’s pretty fast. He’ll run all day, buy time and especially to the right, deep. I’m talking like 20 yards deep and then he’ll throw the ball 40 yards. He’s a great quarterback. He did a great job tonight.”
Despite the questionable defensive coverage calls on that final Chiefs drive - choosing man over zone on long-yardage plays - every Broncos fan knew it would come down to the offense to mount a comeback score.
And it fell short in every way possible.
The hook and ladder playcall is going to let Case Keenum off the hook for the worst missed throw of the season so far. pic.twitter.com/ErhkLmrdTm— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) October 2, 2018
A sack on first down set up 2nd-and-20. With the help of Emmanuel Sanders, Keenum got the offense out of a 4th-and-11 before throwing to Jeff Heuermann for a big gain, a new set of downs and still 30 seconds to go for the end zone.
The offense promptly wasted all of it with three incompletes, including an overthrow to Demaryius Thomas just steps from the end zone that had #MileHighMiracle written all over it.
“There’s not much time left and you do whatever you can do to try to take a shot,” Keenum said. “It was close. I want to watch it on film, but it felt really close. There’s a few, especially those type of plays that I’ll lose a little sleep over, thinking about it, laying at night in bed. It’s a tough one. It stings.”
That’s an understatement.
But the defense seems to be taking it the hardest since Mahomes and the Chiefs scored 14 unanswered points in the second half.
“Yeah, I think it is very frustrating because we felt like we outplayed this team, out-schemed this team, and it came down really to three plays defensively at the very end that cost us,” Shane Ray said. “It is very frustrating.I don’t like to lose, no one does, obviously. When it’s a game like this where we definitely should have won, it doesn’t feel good.”
Harris Jr. said the Broncos “just didn’t finish.”
“We just didn’t finish. You’ve got to close that game out.” - Chris Harris Jr. pic.twitter.com/mXoRUEkCd4— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) October 2, 2018
“We’ve got to close that game out,” he said. “We have them 2nd-and-30 and we just let them off the hook.”
It would be unfair though to call it “letting them off the hook” when the defense was chasing No. 15 all over the field. In fact, Harris Jr. had to get two IVs because of the maximum effort.
“I was covering. [Mahomes] made us cover for a long time….Just playing those extra times, he made us scramble in coverage the whole game. We couldn’t sack this man,” Harris Jr. added. “He’s a hell of a player, he’s a hell of a quarterback. He made plays with his feet, and I can’t wait to play him again though.”
Perhaps the defense can have a chat with the offense, which was unable to score more than two touchdowns and only got 23 points against a defense that had allowed an average of 32 points in its first three games.
“We were in great shape. We were good. We just didn’t close out the game and we let them off the hook on a second-and-30, which was crazy,” Harris Jr. said. “I don’t know, I can’t talk about it. Y’all go back and watch the film and see what we do.”
Shaq Barrett is taking it even more personally, mad that “his guy” got the third-down conversion that allowed Chiefs to keep driving for the winning TD.
“This one is going to hurt, this is going to hurt for a while because I feel like it was my fault for not sticking with my guy,” he said. “So, this one is going to hurt for a long time.”
Miller was visibly worn out but stuck to his “back to the lab” script.
“It’s tough. It’s like investing in something. You invest 100 percent in everything that you got, and you lose. There is a sense of disappointment,” Miller admitted. “We’ve got to get back to the lab and we’re going to do it again. We’ve got to reload again.”
But the Broncos were competitive with one of the best teams in the NFL right now and that has positives players and fans should not lose sight of. The real test will be how the team responds to this loss next week.
“We’ve got to reload again,” Miller said. “The great teams do that.”