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Atwater sees great potential despite mistakes in opening loss

Especially given there were no preseason games for this young team to learn from, the Hall-of-Famer told Broncos Country Tonight that there’s a lot to build upon.

NFL WEEK ONE - TENNESSEE TITANS VS. DENVER BRONCOS Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Steve Atwater isn’t too down on the Broncos after their 16-14 loss on Monday night, and he’s definitely not blaming the entire loss on Vic Fangio’s bizarre clock management in the Titans’ final possession.

In fact, the Hall-of-Famer told Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright of Broncos Country Tonight that there were a lot of places the Broncos could have put themselves in a better position before that final drive - primarily the offense going for a touchdown on 4th-and-1 in the first half and not making it.

“I like the aggressiveness by Coach Fangio and the offense there, but looking back on it, it would have been nice to get those points,” he said.

Benjamin Allbright agreed, saying he had been calling for the field goal because sometimes you cannot “be a slave to the math,” referring to the analytics that say there’s a statistical advantage of getting a touchdown there or to the morale push that comes from showing confidence in your offense.

“Sometimes you have to look at the situation - less than four minutes in the first half, you’re getting the ball back after the half, three puts you up before the half, now Titans will be aggressive and it might give you an opportunity for a turnover and bust this thing wide open,” Allbright pointed out (something he had said in the game and without hindsight).

Atwater had to admit that as a defensive guy he would always like an offense to get points whenever it can because you just never know.

“You could have a bobbled snap, a guy could miss his assignment, you could have a sack,” Atwater said. “You just never know what could happen, so I’m with Ben, I’d rather take the points.”

But the former safety also pointed out that when the Denver offense had the ball with four minutes left in the game, it lost its best opportunity to control the outcome by going three-and-out but mostly taking only 30 seconds off the clock by having two pass plays (both went incomplete) and a good run from Melvin Gordon, who then ran out of bounds.

“We’ve got the lead, we’ve got this ball, we need to stay in bounds and take as much time off the clock as we can,” Atwater added.

Ryan Edwards pointed out that even if the Broncos had kicked the field goal and won the game by one point, the offense is going to have to do better than 17 points this season - especially the next two weeks against the Steelers and the Bucs.

And Atwater believes the offense will get better and that Broncos Country needs to remember this a young offense with very little time together in the offseason.

“The guys did a good job protecting the quarterback, and Drew Lock did a good job finding receivers. The drops - although not monumental and something I’m sure will get corrected - didn’t help us,” Atwater said. “We get a healthy Courtland Sutton back, guys get better in the offense, we’re going to get better and score a lot of points.”

Atwater was also very encouraged that the offense had three drives that went ~70 yards down the field.

“That gives the offense confidence that we can move the ball,” he said. “We’ve just got to come away with points too.”

Atwater, who got the close-up view of training camp, is also excited for what’s to come once the offense gets rolling - and he definitely believes it will get rolling.

“We can get rolling man. We saw in TC how explosive they can be,” he said. “Albert O didn’t play and he’ll be a weapon. Get Courtland Sutton back. I like how we utilized Noah Fant. I like the direction we’re headed. I like what we’re trying to do.”

And the fact that the young team had as many positives without any preseason games - against a team that was basically the same or better as its AFC championship game team - has Atwater feeling good.

“Especially not playing any preseason games, I thought we did a nice job out there,” Atwater said.

Allbright reiterated that fact. The problems the Broncos had - timing issues, communication issues, chemistry issues - are all things that come with more reps together, something that’s tough when much of the team is new and/or young.

“As the season goes on, and they can add more plays to the arsenal, they can add more options,” Atwater said. “They’ll have more weapons to attack the defenses.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the hard-hitter himself was pretty impressed with the rookie corners who were thrown into the game after A.J. Bouyé went down with a shoulder dislocation.

To outsiders it may have seemed odd that rookies Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey went in before De’Vante Harris and Duke Dawson Jr., but Atwater reminded us that we don’t know what the coaches know.

“Michael Ojemudia and Essang Bassey have done something that coaches are more confident putting them in over the veterans,” he said. “They must be doing something right and that’s a positive.”

Putting them in also means they’ll get some good experience right out of the gate and that will help them improve on mistakes and getting better at being in position.

“A lot of quarterbacks are going to test the rookie and say, ‘let’s see what he’s got.’ And Ojemudia is going to have to hold up and make plays to make them throw the ball to someone else,” Atwater said, adding that he thought Ojemudia did well. “He’s going to improve and show them that ‘hey, you’re not throwing that mess on my side.’”

Although the game overall was wrought with little mistakes that had a big impact, Atwater was “extremely pleased” with the production.

“Obviously I would have liked to get the win,” he added, “but I think when they go back to the film, they’ll see things they can be proud of and build off of.”