When the clock struck 0:00 and the Broncos had lost their third football game of 2019 by a last-second field goal, the untrained eye may pin the loss on the defense.
But that would be a mistake.
No doubt a barely missed sack/safety by Von Miller, which turned into a 46-yard reception by T.Y. Hilton to get the Colts to midfield and still a minute and a half to play was a gut punch. And when Alexander Johnson got a 15-yard penalty two plays later for a “horse-collar tackle” that moved the Colts into range for the soon-to-be-winning field goal, the nails in the coffin were being hammered.
But nothing about this loss belongs to the D.
Don’t come at me with your “technically, the defense couldn’t stop them when it counted” or “win as a team, lose as a team” clichés.
Those aren’t untrue.
But what is more true is that the Broncos defense should never have been on the field for the final two minutes; the Colts offense should never have been given an opportunity to attempt a winning score.
And that fault belongs solely to the offense.
In the fourth quarter alone, up 13-12 for most of it, this was the offense:
Drive 1 (begun with 2:21 left in the third quarter): Starting on their 24-yard-line, the offense used nine plays to ultimately go a total of 36 yards, giving up 20 yards in penalties, throwing two incomplete passes and throwing short on every attempt. Punt.
Drive 2: Following a three-and-out from the Broncos’ defense, the offense draws an illegal block penalty on the first play of the drive, making it 1st-and-20 from their 35. The offense then proceeds to make nine total yards on two more plays before punting.
Drive 3: After Derek Wolfe strip-sacks Jacoby Brissett, and Malik Reed recovers the fumble, giving the offense possession at mid-field, Flacco & Co. go three-and-out. Punt.
Drive 4: The defense again keeps the Colts from scoring, and also prevents them from moving beyond their own 18, giving the Broncos offense a decent staring position on their fourth drive of the fourth quarter. It starts well - an eight-yard gain from Phillip Lindsay, followed by a six-yard run from Royce Freeman to get the first, keep the clock ticking and keep the offense on the field. Colts burn two timeouts in the process, and the Broncos face 2nd-and-9. Flacco completes a four-yard pass to Lindsay, setting up 3rd-and-5. The play call is to run No. 30 up the middle, which goes “for no gain” and Broncos have to punt the ball away with 1:55 in the game.
As they say, the rest is history.
Head coach Vic Fangio low-key called out his offense - ergo, his offensive coordinator - in the loss.
“Yeah, those hurt you,” he said about the offense only coming away with field goals early in the game when they were deep in the red zone. “They usually come back to bite you – especially for us, we don’t score many points anyway. For us to not come away with seven when we have a chance to on both of those drives, it ends up being a major factor in the game.”
But Flacco wasn’t low-key; he blasted Rich Scangarello for conservative play calling in the final drive.
“I just look at it like, we are now a 2-6 football team and we’re like afraid to go for it in a two-minute drill,” he said. “Like, who cares if you give the ball back to the guys with a minute and 40 seconds left? They obviously got the field goal anyway. Once again, we’re a 2-6 football team and it just feels like we’re kind of afraid to lose a game.” It’s third-and-five at the end of the game, who cares if they have a timeout there at the end or not. Getting in field goal range isn’t that tough. So you’re just putting your defense in these bad situations.”
Flacco has a point.
But when your third-down conversion rate is two-of-12, and “sack” seems to be the play of choice, it’s hard not to dole out some blame to the quarterback and the offense on the field.
As Benjamin Allbright pointed out, if it was so “easy to get in field goal range,” then why couldn’t Flacco do it the rest of the second half?
Counterpoint to Flacco:— Benjamin Allbright (@AllbrightNFL) October 27, 2019
If it "isnt that hard to get in FG range" why wasn't he able to get them there on the Broncos final 6 drives? https://t.co/LpPgOz4Mpk
And the answer to why Scangarello would call a run play with Lindsay on 3rd-and-5 is possibly more indicative of Flacco’s inabilities than Scangarello’s.
After all, the quarterback took eight sacks against the Chiefs and has repeatedly been unable to get the ball in the end zone. Taking the “safe” play there and punting to the Colts to pin them deep and let the defense work some magic wasn’t without merit.
In hindsight, it was still the wrong call - but that doesn’t mean Flacco is the one to be throwing shade.
Calling out your coach 101:— Jeffrey Essary (@JeffreyEssary) October 28, 2019
If you're making an argument for being more aggressive, be sure it's not ten days after you took 8 sacks and you haven't contributed to a 15% conversion rate on 3rd down four weeks running. https://t.co/d1lcihus8A
Flacco apparently did mention to his OC at halftime that the mismatch between Courtland Sutton and Rock Ya-Sin was a good one to exploit.
To no avail, apparently.
“I felt like at some point, we just got to start going up to him and taking some shots, so I kind of mentioned it at halftime - [Sutton] is a really good wide receiver. If you’re going to leave him one-on-one, you can’t not at least take some shots at him,” Flacco said. “Obviously from what you guys can see today, there are a couple great catches he made and then you get a couple PI calls. Just good things happen...any time you get him one-on-one, you’re going to feel pretty good about what you have.”
In fact, the big receiver was only targeted twice in the fourth quarter - one for a short five-yard gain and one incompletion.
If any player - or any unit - could be justified in calling out the offense’s lack of aggression, it’s the defense.
Chris Harris Jr. came close.
“It’s frustrating man. It was a tough game,” said the corner who held Hilton to just two catches, but for 54 yards - including the second one for 35 yards to get the Colts well within field goal range. “We had a lot of opportunities to win the game and we just couldn’t close it out.”
In a later comment, it was harder to determine who Harris was meaning when he said “we let them hang around.”
“Like I said, we had a lot of opportunities in the first half to take advantage of and we didn’t take advantage of them. We let them hang around.,” he added. “When you let good teams hang around like that and don’t put your foot down on them and always give them a chance to win and we gave them that chance.”
For his part in letting Brissett slip away in the final drive, Von Miller probably blamed himself for the loss.
“I thought I had him. It’s tough thinking about that play,” Miller said. “It’s worse when you feel like you could have done just a little more for your teammates. This one is going to hurt for a little bit.”
Justin Simmons, who had five solo tackles and one pass defensed, pulled out the “team game” cliché - but essentially pointed out that the offense can’t be relied upon for the win.
“I know we had the one turnover, but it would have helped, ...I keep saying it every week, but putting our offense in great field position. I didn’t think we did that enough times this evening,” Simmons said. “We’ve just got to find ways as a defense, to just pull a little bit more along and find ways to close it out.”
Football has wicked sense of humor. #Packers face third-and-5, needing first down to win game. (Sound familiar?) They throw. First down. Game over. I know they have Rodgers. But as Herm Edwards said, "You play to win the game!" #Denver7— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) October 28, 2019