6Usually the thin air at Mile High is a blessing for the Broncos as opponents struggle in the high altitude.
Tough to breathe.
Tough to stay energetic.
Tough to be 100 percent.
But … easy to kick 53-yard field goals.
In the end, the thin air worked against the home team that with just under three minutes to go had clawed its way back to relevance, overcoming a goal-line interception just minutes earlier and knocking on the door to victory.
But the Mile High Magic was not to be.
In a game that to that point had featured just one touchdown and four field goals between the two teams, the final 37 seconds were a complete roller coaster.
But the Bears finished at the apex while the Broncos went crashing to the bottom.
“That’s what it was, it was a roller coaster of emotions,” said guard Ron Leary. “A roller coaster goes up and down.”
While many of the players were pretty down about the heartbreaking loss, they also recognized the silver lining - an improved performance over Week 1’s loss to the Raiders.
“Yeah you see progress. Y’all see the progress. It’s out there, it’s obvious,” Leary said before taking a dig at some poor calls by the refs, including a bogus roughing the passer call on Bradley Chubb that moved the Bears up 15 yards with under 30 seconds to go plus the refs adding one second back to a clock many Broncos thought had run out. “We can’t control what the refs do, and it’s as simple as that.”
#Broncos were upset about a lot of things, including clock. But this was legit beef. #NFL wants pass rushers to perform alligator roll on QBs rather than drive into ground. Who are they Jack Hanna? The physics make no sense. Would need Matrix body bend. Stupid, stupid #Denver7 https://t.co/lkPkxlgv1U— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) September 16, 2019
Head coach Vic Fangio wouldn’t let the refs be the scapegoat and instead focused on what the final drive says to him about his players.
“I think we proved that we are capable of playing good football,” Fangio said. “That was a good team we played. We were toe-to-toe with them the whole game. We had our chances to win there.”
Chubb took the loss hard, blaming himself for the critical penalty that looked a lot more like textbook tackling than roughing the passer, especially one not named Tom Brady.
“Down seven, came back and scored, got the extra point. Go out there and get a call like that, and we ended up losing the game,” he said. “You just can’t put the game in their hands. You’ve got to handle it earlier. We didn’t do that. We let it come down to them, and they won.”
As usual, the stat sheet didn’t tell a complete story.
Bears’ quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw just 120 yards on the day but also had zero interceptions and zero sacks - meaning, Denver’s defense again failed to make a game-changing impact.
Bears’ running backs ruled the day, putting together an impressive 153 yards on the ground. But the defense still held them to just one touchdown and three field goals, as well as creating three three-and-out scenarios for the Bears offense.
But Chris Harris Jr. kept it real, calling the defense’s day “about average” given the one stat that actually matters.
“We didn’t hit the quarterback, we didn’t get any turnovers, we didn’t win the game,” he said.
The final five-minute spurt was too little, too late in a game where the Broncos failed to get to 20 points for the sixth consecutive game, a stat Andrew Mason pointed out made the Broncos the only team not to get to 20 points in the last six contests. And for a team boasting the best pass-rush duo in the league to not have any sacks through two games is a dismal stat.
“We can’t be pleased with nothing,” Chubb noted. “We’re 0-2.”
One of the main culprits was once again the putrid red zone efficiency by the offense. The Bears were one-for-one in the red zone while the Broncos were one-for-three.
After settling for three on its opening drive when it couldn’t get past the 25, the Broncos’ offense went five straight drives ending with a punt. The offense finally added another field goal at the top of the fourth quarter, bringing the game to within 7 points with 13 minutes to go.
The defense tightened up, and the offense looked sharp as Joe Flacco led a 16-play drive over eight minutes, taking the Broncos from their own 24 down to the Bears’ two-yard line. An interception on 3rd-and-2 with 4:45 left seemed like game over.
But that’s when the improvement over last week became noticeable.
The Broncos defense held the Bears to just one first-down conversion and kept them pinned back in their territory, only taking 1:45 off the clock before letting Flacco have another crack at it - which was all he needed.
Royce Freeman took the ball for 19 yards, and after two incomplete passes, Flacco connected with Courtland Sutton on 4th-and-10 for a huge pickup to stay alive.
Driving down to Chicago’s 12, but not being able to get a first down, the Broncos went for another pass play to Sutton on 4th-and-3, who came down with a five-yard reception.
On the next play, Flacco threw to a leaping Emmanuel Sanders in the back of the end zone for six.
Down one point and looking at a potential tie to go into overtime, Vic Fangio called for a two-point conversion. But a delay of game penalty put the Broncos back five yards, all but eliminating its moxie to go for two.
In a weird twist of fate, McManus’ extra point kick was wide right, but a defensive offsides call gave Fangio another crack at the two-point conversion, which this time was successful.
“It was a one-point game at that point,” Fangio said of his decision to twice go for two. “I just thought that our team at that particular time for what we were trying to establish here it was the right choice.”
The players loved it.
Although it ultimately didn’t ensure a win as Bears’ kicker Eddy Pineiro got to have the final say with his 53-yard game-winner as time ran out, Fangio’s team loved the aggressive move to go for a win.
“We’re trying to win games, and if we have an opportunity to win a game with a two-point play at the end there, I’m always going to consider it,” Fangio said, adding that different circumstances will lead to different decision. “I was convinced it was the right decision this time.”
It was the same philosophy for going for three fourth downs in the game, a stat that ended well with the Broncos 100 percent on fourth-down conversions.
“Same thing. You’re around midfield. You convert. You’re down in their territory which at that point is going to put you in four-down territory,” Fangio said. “I just felt it was the right thing to do there.”
And so did his players:
Flacco noted that they had been talking about it throughout the fourth quarter, anticipating just such a scenario.
“We’d been talking about it most of the fourth quarter, kind of just what we liked, what we wanted to call down there if we scored,” the quarterback said, adding that he had planned to go out again for the two-point conversion after the offsides call. ”I expected to be out there, so we were ready for the moment.”
Harris Jr. pointed out that Fangio had told the team in training camp he would play aggressive.
“Coach told us in training camp that he’s going to play aggressive, he’s going to play to win,” CHJ said. “We had the mindset that we were going to go win the game, so that is we’ve been preparing for since we got there.”
Phillip Lindsay also wasn’t surprised by the gutsy call.
“I like it. ….We’re here to win football games, we’re not here to bow down to anybody or anything like that,” No. 30 said. “At the end of the day, we have to do a better job in the red zone, we’ve got to put points on the board and that’s us.”
Von Miller, who went a second straight game with no sacks or QB pressures, called the play “dope.”
“I like it. That’s my kind of coach right there. When he first got here, he talked in OTAs that’s what he’s about. He talked about winning right now, not playing for later,” Miller said. “Yeah, I liked that. That was dope. We’ve got a great coach, we have great players, we just have to keep on playing.”
To Emmanuel Sanders, who was half of the equation in both the TD and two-point conversion to put the Broncos up by one with 31 seconds left, it was the only real choice available.
“I like it, that’s what we are supposed to do,” Sanders said. “When he first came in as coach, that’s what he said he was going to do. We talk situational football all the time and we went out and executed in that situation.”
Both Sanders and Justin Simmons pointed out that the Broncos needed to execute better, but the game itself was not without elements to praise.
“The defense did a great job of being resilient, being strong,” Simmons said, adding there were some negatives too. “We didn’t get any takeaways. I think that would have helped big time. Obviously that last drive, a lot of positives, but they’re obviously a lot of things we still need to work on.”
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