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10 things we learned after the Broncos’ ugly 30-6 loss to the Chiefs

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Joe Flacco looked like a rookie behind a bad pair of tackles.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos
It isn’t even that they lost, Joe Flacco looked like a rookie. Why not consider one?
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos came into this game on a two game winning streak. The Chiefs came into this game on a two game skid with half their starting lineup battered. With that in mind, the final score doesn’t do justice to how ugly this loss was.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Ja’Wuan James didn’t play.

I feel as if I’ve written this for six weeks now.

Oh wait, I have. At this point, I’ll let you know when he does suit up again.

2. Corey Nelson goes from starter to inactive in three weeks.

Nelson has had a turbulent second stint with the Broncos so far. After signing in Denver seven days before kickoff against the Raiders, the former Sooner found his way into the starting lineup in Oakland. It was never really fair to expect him to adequetly fill in for the injured Todd Davis on such short notice, but he did what he could.

After Leonard Fournette’s 225-yards rushing day, Nelson was yanked in favor of Alexander Johnson. The 250-pound dinosaur has flourished since, so much that even Josey Jewell played 0 defensive snaps last week. With all of the linebackers healthy, it now makes sense for Nelson to sit out.

3. Riverboat Vic comes up short on his first boat ride.

After the Broncos’ game-opening touchdown, a Chiefs penalty put the offense at the one on the point after attempt. Fangio took advantage and tried for two. Phillip Lindsay was stuffed short of the goal line and Denver settled for the six points.

This is one of those situations where I like the decision even if it didn’t go Denver’s way this time. You’re not going to have a better shot at extra points than sitting at the one. In a game against the best offense in football, it makes sense to try and capitalize.

In the bigger picture - I like how the decision showed Vic isn’t afraid to put his team in the best possible situation to win, even if it means he’ll get some flak if it doesn’t work out. In a league where a coach’s fear is holding half the teams back, Vic’s got stones.

4. The Chiefs offense was still really good early.

Patrick Mahomes’ ankle coverage before the game overshadowed how dangerous the Chiefs’ offense was, especially to a Broncos secondary with two-fifths of the starters making their second starts.

5. Tackles and Joe Flacco struggle against pass rush. Again.

One of the bigger stories in recent weeks has been Garett Bolles improvement. At one point he was getting a lot of love because of his PFF grade. When I mentioned that I was dubious, more than a couple people reminded me that he wasn’t getting holding calls.

Following the hold, the Broncos were in 1st and 20. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo used the opportunity to send additional rushers off the edges to attack the run game and on third and long Elijah Wilkinson was beaten for a big Flacco sack.

Wilkinson’s struggles continued throughout the game. It got Denver behind the sticks and almost led to a turnover on the third drive.

As I’ve said time and again, though, sacks are a QB stat. While the issues with the tackles were definitely a factor, Flacco’s issues identifying the blitz and holding the ball were also huge issues. The 12-year veteran QB ate the turf 8 different times tonight and lost 72 yards in the process.

6. Reid calls a 4th-down sneak; Mahomes gets hurt.

Coming into the game I mentioned how Andy Reid’s health has been a serious issue for the Chiefs in recent weeks. After a dumb questionable fake punt, the Broncos D made a valiant stand in the shadow of their own end zone on third down. Facing fourth, Andy Reid dialed up a sneak. It blew up in his face.

At the time he was injured, Patrick Mahomes had completed 10 of his 11 passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Midway through halftime, this tweet crossed my timeline. According to David Chao it looks like Patrick Mahomes may have dislocated his right patella kneecap. The knee was locked where he could not bend or straighten it. It could be season-ending.

7. Noah Fant had a really bad gaffe. Then Flacco buried him.

I know the “bust” talk is going to continue this week. Last week after the Flacco interception against the Titans I mentioned how patience is needed for almost every tight end. I still mean that.

I will admit, though, that Fant had a really, really bad drop tonight when the offense needed him. Catching the ball in traffic isn’t easy, especially when you know you’re going to get drilled. But Flacco put the ball where it had to be. Fant needs to do his part.

Later in the game, Fant had another drop that sent all of his biggest critics into my mentions. Let me just say that while the drop above is 100% on the rookie...

This is not. At all.

8. The defense showed bright spots.

Reading through the stuff above or checking out the score may leave you thinking it was an albatross all around. Not true. After Patrick Mahomes opening drive, a really good punt return and the stupid fake punt left the defense in awful field position.

Three players really stood out to me early: Justin Simmons, Shelby Harris, and Derek Wolfe.

In the second half with Moore under center, the Broncos defense mixed in a lot of good around a long Tyreek Hill touchdown. Todd Davis, Davontae Harris and Von Miller did their part to give the Broncos a chance to claw back into it. Harris was inches from his first career interception.

9. Chubb’s absence reared its ugly head.

Late in the game, DeMarcus Walker came away with a sack. It looked a lot like most of his other plays against the pass: a second effort chase down. He now has four on the year. Even with that included, it became painfully clear that the Broncos defense has a 276-pound hole in it ‘til 2020.

10. Joe Flacco can’t move the ball in garbage time.

There came a point in the middle of the fourth quarter when it became clear the Broncos had no chance. Denver’s offense started to huddle up and slowly come to the line.

It never improved. I have to give the fans who stuck around a big heaping of credit. The offense made this game all but unwatchable.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, facing third and long, Joe Flacco dropped back to pass.... and just kept dropping.

If I didn’t know better, I would tell you that 5 looks a lot like a rookie quarterback in one of his first starts on the play above. This kind of ugliness has flashed here and there throughout this season, but tonight against a decimated Chiefs team with one of the worst pass rushes in football?

Yikes.

Final Thoughts

Coming into tonight, the Broncos had an opportunity to make a real statement. Kansas City was missing the left side of its offensive line, a receiver, a corner, their star defensive tackle. Patrick Mahomes was playing hobbled and wound up leaving the game in the first quarter.

Even then, only one statement was made tonight. This is not a playoff team. I know two wins in a row had hopes riding high, but the reality is Denver’s slogging through a transition to a new coaching staff in the middle of an ugly rebuild. It’s time they accept that reality in its entirety.