You could argue that the roughing the passer call inside two minutes to play was a highly questionable penalty with the game on the line.
But it would be hard to argue the Broncos’ defense deserved a break after the performance it put up in the second half that ultimately led to a 26-24 loss to the Jaguars Sunday.
Vic Fangio had no issue assessing the problem.
“We just got whipped,” he said.
The comment was specifically in reference to the run defense allowing Leonard Fournette to scamper 269 yards, including one 81-yard haul - but it might as well have been the entire diagnosis.
“They were pushing us around and he’s a big back and he broke tackles and moved the pile, and we got whipped.”
The Broncos were dominating 17-3 until an untimely interception just before halftime gave Jacksonville a spark. And it was enough to put the Jaguars on the hunt in the third quarter where Gardner Minshew kept his offense on the field nearly 11 minutes before scoring a touchdown and closing the gap 17-13.
An unfortunate three-and-out from the Broncos’ offense gave the Jaguars the ball back in less than two minutes, but it only took one play for Fournette to take the ball from the Jags’ own 14-yard line to the Broncos’ 12-yard line.
Forty-five seconds later Jacksonville led 20-17.
“It changes the whole complex of the game. Our offense probably only had the ball three times in the second half. When we allow them to eat up 10 minutes of the third quarter, the whole game changes,” Fangio said. “If we could have answered their initial drive in the second half with some points and some first downs maybe the game’s different. When you’re getting whipped like that it’s hard to win.”
The gassed #Broncos D gives up an 81-yarder to Fournette after a three and out by the O. pic.twitter.com/dJjzRQtFoX— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 29, 2019
Despite the second-half meltdown, Flacco mounted an impressive comeback drive with just under three minutes to play, ironically scoring too quickly with a drive led by deep passes to Emmanuel Sanders and Courtland Sutton to get into Jags’ territory before eventually hitting Sutton in the end zone on an 8-yard TD play.
The 24-23 lead was a deja vu as an untimely roughing the passer penalty helped the Jaguars stay in the hunt and ultimately pick apart the Broncos’ defense a few more plays before nailing a go-ahead field goal as time expired.
After the game, Flacco noted the irony of leaving too much time on the clock for the Jaguars’ offense to get the comeback win.
It’s one thing to be sitting at home, watching a team score too quickly and knowing, “oh my gosh, they left too much time on the clock,” Flacco said. But with defenses as strong as they are, and pass rushers as dominant as they are, waiting too long to score can be deadly.
“But when you have to score a touchdown, it’s that fine line. You have to take your opportunity when you get it because you never know,” Flacco added. “If you try to just eat the clock up and do things like that and then score with 20 seconds left, you don’t know if you’re even going to score. It’s definitely a fine line. I hear what you’re saying, it makes a lot of sense. It’s just one of those things that when you’re in the moment, it’s not as easy to do as you want it to be.”
The frustration by defenders was obvious after the game. This team has gotten used to the defense bailing out the offense, but that mindset is no longer valid and vets like Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. are realizing that.
“We’ve got to figure out how to close it,” Harris Jr. said. “We haven’t been the closers that we’ve been in the past. We’ve got to just figure out how to close as a team.”
Can't dwell on it. pic.twitter.com/T5TmIDJycZ— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) September 30, 2019
The ultimate irony was that the defense had finally “shown up” with sacks, getting to Minshew five times for a total loss of 27 yards. Miller notched two of the five, while Bradley Chubb, DeMarcus Walker and Malik Reed each added one.
But it turns out that just sacking the quarterback wasn’t the only missing piece for this defense.
“[The] offense did enough for us to win. Defense, we’ve got to find a way to close the game out. That’s the second time this season that that’s happened to us. There’s really no time for us to feel sorry for ourselves,” Miller said, adding that he’s going to do what he always does - “take a long, hard look in the mirror” and then do it again. “That’s the answer to all our problems. I was able to get on the board with sacks, but everybody knows the win column is the most important stat for us. It was a tough one. It’s a tough patch for us. Like I said, there’s no time for us to really feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to keep working.”
But “win as a team and lose as a team” as they say, and while the defense dropped the ball on the final drive to allow a Jaguars’ comeback, an argument could be made that the interception just before halftime that gave Jacksonville some life was a major culprit to the loss, something Harris Jr. hinted at.
“They just got a lot of momentum when we gave them three points at the end,” the cornerback said. “I think that came back to haunt us at the end, so kudos to them for getting a key turnover before halftime.”
Multiple three-and-outs by the offense in the second half also did nothing to help the defense.
“We had two three and outs, their offense had the ball for 10 minutes,” Sanders said. “I remember sitting on the sideline and saying, ‘We can’t keep going three and out; our defense is going to be tired.’ And we came out and had another three and out. We just can’t do that.”
Phillip Lindsay, who ran for a very average 53 yards while the team only logged 68 on the ground, also gave much of the responsibility to the offense.
“We have to execute. We can’t leave the defense,” Lindsay said. “When the defense gets a stop, we have to go out there and produce. It is a mindset. Every game we get better, but we have to get over that hump and find a way to win.”
There were multiple issues to point to, however, and perhaps one of the easiest to fix should be the fundamentals Fangio and his staff have preached all offseason.
Like tackling for one.
“We didn’t tackle,” Justin Simmons said. “A lot of times we were at the point of attack, and we knew going in [Fournette] was a tough guy to bring down and you have to swarm, and we didn’t tackle well at all. We have to do a better job of that.”
And the coach isn’t thrilled by it either, saying it makes him “very” crazy to watch guys miss a tackle.
“It’s my guess that when we look at this, guys got frustrated with allowing them to run the ball as our tackling suffered. I’m sure our technique suffered then,” he said. “Guys start fudging sometimes to try and make a play, and it becomes an avalanche. [Fournette] is a really good big back. He took it to us, and their line did too.”
0-4 is a bad place to be and while the locker room is talking about “staying together, staying positive” and focusing on the next team to get a win, the cracks are already showing.
Denver Post’s Mike Kizsla reported that Harris Jr. told him “13 more weeks for me,” which indicates frustration over losing may be the biggest battle ahead for this team.
And Fangio knows it. In addition to coaching football, now he’s got to coach attitude.
“I’m sure it’s harder for the players to believe in [our approach] because this is a bottom-line business, and our bottom line isn’t’ very good right now,” he said. “We’re going to keep trudging forward. We’re going to keep coaching these guys, trying to correct our mistakes, try and get better and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Nicki Jhabvala reported there was yelling in the locker room before the media came in, and when asked about it, Harris Jr. just said, “None of y’all’s business.”
Derek Wolfe mentioned that this is “something that will either make or break you” as a team.
“You either stick together, or you separate and everybody becomes an individual and does what’s best for themselves,” Wolfe said. “So we have to use it to bring us together, use it as a positive. Otherwise, we’re in for another shit season.”
Losing is a team effort, but where do you put the MOST blame for the 26-24 loss?
This poll is closed
Poor Run D, tackling
Three-and-outs, INT by the offense
It really goes back to Elway and the players he put on the team