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6 winners, 6 losers, 1 both from the Broncos 16-14 maddening loss to Tennessee

The young Broncos show glimmers of promise in season opener, but also potential problem areas in the defeat.

The 2020 version of the Denver Broncos is off and running.

And it feels like we got a repeat of a show we’ve already watched. For a year that will go down in history, this is like a bad repeat of the 2019 season all over again. One could say 2020 does it again.

On the MHR Radio Podcast, Adam Malnati and I described the 16-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans as maddening. This is a game the Broncos should have won. Instead, Denver once again fails to close out a game it had a late lead in.

Before we go any further, it’s important to clear this up. When you read and see “losers” in this column, don’t take it so literally. I’m not calling whoever falls into that category a “loser.” Just like in a game, there is a winner and loser. This column is an extension of that. And just like from that game, when a team falls into the loser category, it doesn’t make the whole team a bunch of losers.

Per the usual, I’m bound to forget someone or leave them off, so please mention them in the comments.

Winners

Garett Bolles

Not once did Broncos Country hear No. 72 mentioned by the referee or the name Bolles from the ESPN broadcast crew. Mile High Salute to Bolles for a helluva game.

Sam Martin

What’s this? The Broncos have a punter? It certainly looks that way. Martin not only had great hang time, he was able to pin the Titans at or inside their 10-yard line late in the fourth quarter. It didn’t eventually matter, but he did his job and it’s a great sign for this team.

Broncos rush defense

Yes, Derek Henry finished with over 100 yards rushing (116 on 31 carries), but Denver limited the impact he had on the game. The Tennessee running back had to earn every yard he got. The rush defense did its job against Henry. When you hold him to 3.7 yards per carry you did your job. In 2019, Henry averaged 5.1 yards per carry.

Noah Fant

Broncos Country could get used to hearing “Drew Lock to Fant” this season. Hopefully we hear it frequently. The touchdown to cap that drive is one of the positives to take away from this loss. Take the confidence gained from that, watch the replay and build on that so the Broncos can make that more consistent over the course of the game. Do that when it matters most: at the end of games. Fant finished the game with five catches for 81 yards and that touchdown. Whether because of the Titans or Denver, it didn’t seem Fant was even targeted in the second half. That must change.

Jeremiah Attaochu and Malik Reed

The task to fill the shoes of Von Miller is impossible. You don’t replace a player like Miller. There are few players in the NFL like him. There are few players in the history of the game like him. But Attaochu and Reed should be commended for how they played on Monday night. Attaochu finished with four tackles, three solo, one sack, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hits. Reed had three tackles, two solo, and one tackle for loss.

Both

Melvin Gordon

The Broncos running back had the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, but he also had a huge fumble that flipped momentum in the game. Gordon finished with 15 carries for 78 yards and that touchdown.

Losers

Vic Fangio

I still have no clue what Fangio was doing at the end of the game with timeouts and clock management. I get you’re playing the odds with Titans kicker Stephen Gostkowski, but a Hall of Fame kicker will make that chip shot blindfolded. When Tennessee got within chip-shot range, there was still over one minute left on the clock. Give your team a chance, especially considering you have a kicker with a monster leg that you just gave a contract extension to.

Pat Shurmur

I still have no clue what that shovel pass was on fourth-and-one from the one-yard line. Run the ball. Use Fant. A shovel pass? A touchdown there is massive for the Broncos.

Jerry Jeudy

I never thought I would put the rookie receiver on this list because of drops, but here we are. It is 2020. Two huge drops by Jeudy, one not only a drive killer, but a game killer with around 5 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

Tight end coverage

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It clearly doesn’t matter who the head coach or defensive coordinator is, Denver will never be able to cover tight ends.

Death by inches

The turnover, penalties, drops, horrible clock management, bad play calling and the inability to close out games ... again. In a game that was so close, the Broncos made those mistakes and Tennessee didn’t. The good news is this is the first game of the season and you could tell. As I told Adam on the podcast, it’s a learning moment for this young team. We knew there would be bumps in the road, now it’s time to see how it responds.

Injuries

In the first game of the season, Denver was already down Miller and Courtland Sutton. Then you add A.J. Bouye and Phillip Lindsay. The Broncos have had their fill of injuries for 2020, thanks. No more please.