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Great defense just isn’t enough against the Chiefs

Kansas City has too many weapons, so if Denver’s offense can’t score more often, there’s little chance of winning the game.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Sometimes a graphic tells the story best.

Although the Broncos had a great day on the ground and even owned the better third-down conversion rate while also keeping time of possession in balance - all things that help a defense like Denver’s play aggressive - the total offensive production and the turnover differential tell us everything about why the Broncos could not overcome just 22 points by the Chiefs.

“Always frustrated when you don’t get the win,” said head coach Vic Fangio after the game. “We ran the ball well, which I think you have to do against this team. We converted third downs, which you have to do against this team. We played good red zone defense, which you have to do against this team We needed to do just a little bit more—just coaches and players alike. We just needed a little bit more.”

Against many other NFL teams, Kansas City’s six trips deep into their opponent’s side of the field would have ended in six touchdowns instead of just one and five field goals. Not to mention the fact that two of those field goals came after the Chiefs couldn’t get a touchdown despite being inside the 10-yard line and three others inside the 20-yard line.

The Ever-Amazing Patrick Mahomes’ offense even had to punt three times because the whiz kid was stymied by Denver’s pressure.

Fangio noted that “getting them stopped” was nice, especially when “some of them were very tough situations,” but the fact is that despite all those impressive defensive stands, the Broncos’ offense just could not do its part.

“We had some nice drives. We converted some third downs there—had a higher percentage than we have all year and gave ourselves a chance to win,” Fangio said. “But we didn’t finish it and ultimately that’s what we came here to do is to win, and we didn’t get it done.”

Lock, who completed just 15 passes for 151 yards plus one touchdown and two interceptions, understood after the game that the only way to “close the gap” on the Chiefs is to win.

“There are no feel-good losses in this league, ever,” he said. “We did play them closer than we have before, but what does that get you? Nothing—it gets you an upset locker room, it gets you to a sad flight home, but we’ll learn from it and keep getting better and keep focusing on these little things that sometimes bite us in the butt.”

Although Lock noted there are no moral victories ever, he acknowledged that the offense’s fight until the final whistle is a worthy takeaway.

“We came out and we didn’t stop playing until the whistle — that’s about the only moral victory I’ll take tonight because there really aren’t any,” he said. “...We were always in it, we always had belief. Every time I walked into the huddle I looked into the guy’s eyes and I could tell there was belief tonight. There was nothing that we thought we couldn’t do against this defense ... It would be a better feeling right now if we ended up with more points on the scoreboard, and we didn’t so that’s the end result. That’s why you’re going to hurt for a couple of days.”

The final drive with just over a minute to go will be the one that hurts.

Starting from their 25 and six points behind, Lock had his first pass tipped. He threw a short completion to Jeudy for five yards on second down that was high and kept Jeudy from being able to get out of bounds and stop the clock. Lock’s 3rd-and-5 pass - presumably to Noah Fant - was nearly intercepted, but Lock saved the INT for his 4th-and-5 shot to Jeudy as Tyrann Mathieu jumped in front to take the ball for a second time on the night.

Shelby Harris, who was playing in his first game in four weeks after battling COVID-19, was the ultimate team player by noting that the defense should have done more on the previous drive to get the Chiefs off the field sooner so the offense had more time.

“As a defense, we know we should have stopped them earlier and we should have gave the offense more time. That’s where the frustration lies,” he said. “We went in there, we played our tails off, and we lost. You go into a game trying to win.”

What Harris didn’t mention is that had Lock and the offense been able to stay on the field and score in their second-to-last drive, neither Lock nor Harris would have to defense their unit’s “last drive.”

Down 19-16 with more than nine minutes to play and starting from their own eight-yard line, the Broncos ran seven plays and got a couple of first downs (one via a 20-yard pass interference call) to get to their own 49 before Lock overthrew KJ Hamler on 3rd-and-3.

With more than six minutes in the game, Fangio elected to punt on 4th-and-3 rather than take a chance for the first down - though he did think about it.

“I gave it a strong consideration,” Fangio said. “At some point in the game we’ve got to get a stop and we weren’t able to [on the Chiefs’ next drive]. We held them to a field goal, but that made it a touchdown game and burned out some of the time there. So, in retrospect, [we] should have probably gone for it, but I did give it serious thought.”

Perhaps the bigger question was why Pat Shurmur didn’t give the ball to Melvin Gordon - who was averaging nearly nine yards on every carry - on that 3rd-and-3 down. If he didn’t the first down, it was a good chance he would have come close, and 4th-and-inches would have made Fangio’s decision a lot easier.

If Gordon was upset about the play call there, he didn’t let it show in his post-game presser where instead he highlighted that it’s never about “if this had happened, or if that had happened.” It’s just about what did happen.

“I think we did a good enough job slowing them down. Those guys, they’re high-powered. We know that, you guys know that and the world knows that,” Gordon said of the Chiefs’ offense. “Mahomes is a different breed. He’s kind of what makes that whole team go. I think we did enough to slow them down, we’ve just got to make our plays. We’ve got to make our plays.”

Gordon, who slipped on the turf a couple times before probably breaking open a few more big runs, said the entire offense could have done better and that’s the difference.

He’s not wrong.

“I think Drew, me and the whole team could’ve done better. We lost the game. It’s not like Drew should’ve done this better, or if I don’t slip on some of those runs, we’re probably in a different position. ...You never know. The outcome of the game could be different. It’s not about saying who could’ve done better, we all could’ve done better as a unit because we lost.”

But even though every player knows there are no moral victories, Harris pointed out that players are playing for their jobs the next year, so there is always fight in them no matter a team’s record.

So for his money (which, um...John Elway, it’s not enough yet, please pay Shelby Harris, thank you), there’s good reason to remember the positives, even from a loss.

“My biggest thing really is just that we can play with the best of them,” said Harris, who batted down two passes and had two tackles in his return after a four-game hiatus. “When we don’t turn the ball over and we don’t do all this crazy stuff—we can play with the best of them. So, let’s keep playing with the best—let’s keep playing like this. So, it’s something to build on. Obviously, we’re not happy that we lost, but this is how we should be playing every week.”