Missed field goals.
The story of the Broncos’ 19-16 loss to the Chargers was like a microcosm of Denver’s 2020 season - lots of potential, some bad luck, tons of missed opportunities.
But it’s a familiar story of late, and the fix is no mystery.
If you want to win, you have to “do all the things that winning teams do,” coach Vic Fangio noted.
“[We] can’t give up an opening kickoff where they return it deep into our end for a field goal. We got to make our field goals. We got to catch the ball when it’s thrown to us. We got to throw the ball more accurately at times. We got to play receivers tighter, no matter who’s playing corner and not just play scared. We got to tackle when we have the opportunity to tackle,” he said. “I’m proud of their effort, their toughness, and their resilience, but we got to do things better.”
By halftime, the Broncos hadn’t put a point on the board, and it wasn’t until their second possession of the third quarter that Denver made a dent in the Chargers’ 13-point lead with a field goal.
To start the fourth quarter, Chargers increased their lead 16-3, and it was then that the Broncos started making a comeback, tying the game with under three minutes to play.
But as so often this season, it was too late to “fabricate” a win and too late to make up for so many early offensive mistakes.
Drew Lock completed only 24 of his 47 passes and added two sacks and two interceptions, one of them in the end zone. Brandon McManus missed a 37-yard field goal on a second try after an L.A. penalty moved him five yards closer to the uprights. Jerry Jeudy dropped nine passes, most of which were very catchable balls.
No player was making excuses, but none could account for their misses either.
“It is all about consistency at this position and at this level, so to say. I have to find a good balance of being level, but quite honestly, I’m going to try to be hot all the time,” Lock said. “I understand what I can do with the football—I am starting to see this speed, these defenses, and know this offense well enough to be able to go out and feel really confident going in there to be able to make the throws that I need, see the defense and put the ball where it needs to go.”
But there are still the head-scratching passes that are frustrating to coaches and fans - like the early interception that prevented a likely early score.
“Well, they ended up with the ball in their hand— that’s what I saw at the end of it and that’s what we can’t have happen,” Lock said as he described how it unfolded. “I rolled out, a defender to my left and a defender to my right, DeSean [Hamilton] was running across my face, I put it in between the two defenders closest to me but it ended up being behind DeSean. It was a play that I just have to throw away—maybe try to knife it, get up a couple yards, went off the back of DeSean and they picked it off. That’s what I saw and it’s one of those plays I have to get out of me.”
Fangio would like that too.
“You can’t throw red zone interceptions, especially one that there really wasn’t much there or [you] throw it sloppily out there,” he said. “If you try and hammer one in there and the defense makes a great play that’s one thing, but if you make a bad choice, that’s another thing.”
But all of Lock’s incompletions are not entirely on him, and the young quarterback certainly doesn’t seem to have lost any confidence in his ability.
In fact, he’s actually feeling more confident about his potential as he gets more reps and finds “the steady tempo of a game.”
“I think sometimes, because I am the big play guy and put it downfield, that when I do take a check down here and there that it kind of comes off as being cold,” he said. “You’re used to me taking deep shots and going down the field to where, myself included, I need to be okay with just getting it down and extending drives.”
Jeudy, who admitted to putting in the worst performance in his football career (which, admittedly has mostly been at the powerhouse Crimson Tide), acknowledged that sometimes drops happen, but they can’t happen as often as they did Sunday.
“Like I said, I watched the ball come in, it just dropped. I just got to focus on the next play. It just happened too many times today. That’s unacceptable,” he said, adding that Lock gave him a good pep talk.
“Drew was just telling me it’s happened to the best so just keep your head up and just focus on the next play,” Jeudy said. “Drew is a great teammate. He always says the right thing to keep his guys going and motivated. That’s a big deal. After he told me that, I told myself just keep pushing, keep playing. Drops will happen—it happens to some of the best—I can’t just dwell on this. I’ve just got to find ways to fix it.”
While the offense came alive in the fourth, the defense had somewhat quietly been putting together a masterful stop against Justin Herbert, holding his offense to just 16 points - only one touchdown pass - until the final winning drive.
But while Austin Ekeler chewed up the field and put the Chargers in the red zone, the Broncos’ defense still held them to just a field goal, making a potential Denver comeback just a little more attainable.
It was not to be, and the story will definitely be the loss rather than Dre’Mont Jones’ sack to take the Chargers out of touchdown contention or Shelby Harris’ two batted down passes or Josey Jewell’s two batted balls or Malik Reed’s sack for a 20-yard loss.
But that’s the nature of a loss.
Positives are always overshadowed by the glaring mistakes.
“You can be good all day, but if you have a couple bad plays that’s going to overshadow the good plays,” Alexander Johnson said, adding it’s part of life in the game. “If we try to eliminate those couple of [bad] ones and it would have been a pretty great day.”
For Malik Reed, the almost-stops were disappointing but also encouraging for the future of this defense - which played without Bradley Chubb and inserted a brand new cornerback in the middle of the game.
“It was huge. I feel like that shows a lot of maturity in our defense to be able to go out there and keep getting stops and keep getting three-and-outs,” he said. “We have young guys on our defense, so I feel like it’s a maturation process that’s been had over the course of this season. With all the games that we had, through the wins and losses, we’ve been able to grow. I feel like that was huge out there. Us being able to make sure we gave enough opportunity to be successful and make sure that we got off the field was huge for our team. But we didn’t come away with the win, so we definitely needed to get a few more.”