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10 things we learned after the Broncos’ 16-14 loss to the Bears

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The Broncos fall to 0-2 for the first time since 1999. Here’s what we learned in the gut-wrenching defeat.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos
Joe Flacco completed 70% of his passes against the vaunted Bears defense.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It feels too easy to blame the referees for the Broncos’ defeat. In a game of inches, it wouldn’t be a lie. After all, the roughing the passer call on Bradley Chubb was perhaps the most egregiously awful call I’ve seen in a game that didn’t involve Tom Brady.

I refuse to dwell too long on it ,though.

Denver had multiple opportunities to keep themselves out of a situation where that’d be the difference. There was a lot of good that came out of today, as well as some issues that need to get cleaned up in a hurry if Fangio doesn’t want to fall to 0-3.

Here’s what we learned:

1. Todd Davis and Bryce Callahan didn’t play, again.

Both have been dealing with injuries and missed Week 1 against the Raiders, but both showed signs that they’ve been working back toward the lineup. Not today.

2. The Broncos’ second-level is an issue, again.

Coming off a loss where he ran the ball just 15 times, it was obvious all week that Matt Nagy was going to ride the ground game. Corey Nelson was caught hesitating and slow to leverage his gap more than once today. Josey Jewell looked better than his counterpart, which isn’t to say he looked great. Both looked hesitant to leverage their gaps on a couple of critical third downs, and it kept the Bears’ shaky offense humming.

It’s long past time Broncos Country start sending Todd Davis “Get well soon” cards.

3. Trubisky tried to attack Yiadom on key downs early.

This became really clear at the end of the first quarter when the Bears faced 3rd and long. Mitch Trubisky found the 6-foot-7 Adam Shaheen in the flat with Isaac Yiadom in coverage. If the Broncos’ second-year corner makes the tackle, it’s a stop.

Unlike last week, Yiadom didn’t let the mistake haunt him and came up with some really nice coverage down the stretch. While it’s a small consolation in light of the final score, if we’re talking about the long game, that’s a really good sign for the Broncos’ second year corner.

4. Bradley Chubb looks legit.

I already addressed the call that shall not be named, so let’s look elsewhere.

One of the biggest complaints about Chubb’s rookie season was how he played when he wasn’t rushing the passer. Through two weeks he’s kind of flipped that script. Most are criticizing him for his lack of sacks and missing the growth. While he and Von Miller haven’t had a lot of pass rush production, it’s clear Chubb has really come along as an edge setter and become a stronger overall player.

5. Garett Holds is at it again.

With time winding down in the second quarter, Phillip Lindsay broke into the third level for a big gain. Only a hold by Garett Bolles on Roquan Smith cancelled the play out. Later on the same drive, Bolles was at it again, forcing the Broncos into a 1st and 20 and killing any hope at points before the half.

After an awesome stop by Denver’s D to get Flacco the ball back with about a minute, Bolles was at it again with his third hold of the day. His penalty pushed the ball back into the shadow from the field goal post and the offense was lucky to get the ball out without catastrophe.

His issues continued into the second half, and I’m not going to lie: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a tackle finish a game with four holds. Mark Schlereth believed he should have been called for a fifth later in the game.

It speaks to how shoddy the Broncos depth is at the position that he’ll continue to be the starter going into Lambeau.

6. The Broncos backs flash brilliance.

Even Bolles couldn’t stop Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman from showing out. Lindsay had a nice run after a dump-off from Flacco, and Rich Scangarello got Royce Freeman the ball out wide for a craft first. Both have look really promising as receiving backs.

Freeman wasn’t too shabby on the ground either. Dalton Risner and the Broncos interior offensive line did a nice job creating holes. Freeman finished the game averaging 4.9 yards per carry and looked like a strong zone runner.

7. Justin Simmons looks much improved

Lost amid all of the other calamity in Oakland was the disappointing safety play by Simmons and Will Parks. That won’t be an issue this week.

Simmons wasn’t perfect, he almost got beat on the play above peeking into the backfield. He didn’t because he showed off an impressive ability to recover and close (and had a little help on Trubisky’s timing).

Down the stretch that same range helped out the Broncos’ run game. Simmons also looked sticky in tight coverage in the fourth, which was critical for giving Flacco and the offense opportunities to cut into the Bears lead.

8. The Bears offense did the Broncos a few favors

As improved as the Broncos defense looked against the Bears, it certainly helped that Chicago’s head coach was under scrutiny for not running the ball enough. More than once it felt like Nagy was coaching with the criticism in mind. He ran in passing situations and didn’t do as good a job at trying to get Cohen the ball in space as he did last week.

9. Joe Flacco did enough to win.

One of the prevailing narratives about Flacco after the Oakland game was how great he looked. If you read GIF Horse last week, you already know how passer rating is a poor measure of a quarterback’s performance.

After the pick, Joe Flacco had thrown an interception and taken two sacks in the opponents’ redzone on third downs. He had one completion. Denver had one touchdown through two games.

But then the defense got him the ball back and another opportunity to be the hero. All he did was drive the ball down the field and score both a touchdown and a 2-pt conversion to give the Broncos the lead with 30 odd seconds left.

10. Courtland Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders

Speaking of that touchdown drive, it was awesome to see Sutton catch so many critical passes in tight moments for the Broncos. Sanders was involved throughout. There remains questions about the Broncos receiving corps, but it’s time to believe that they have a dynamic duo once again.

Final Thoughts

One of the most painful parts of this Broncos’ loss is how much promise and fight they showed throughout. The defense looked much improved over last week’s debacle, and Flacco and the offense moved the ball against one of the best defenses in the league.

It doesn’t feel like this team should be 0-2, and yet if the issues don’t improve it’s easy to see how Aaron Rodgers and the Packers can extend their losing streak at Lambeau.

Let’s hope they can shore things up.