With 10 minutes to go in the Steelers’ game, and after giving up a safety on a missed snap before a punt from their own end zone, the Broncos rallied.
Behind some big catches from K.J. Hamler and Tim Patrick, the Broncos found themselves inside the Steelers’ 20 before Melvin Gordon fell into the end zone on a 16-yard touchdown pass.
And then the Broncos even threatened to bust Pittsburgh’s confidence wide open as the defense forced the Steelers into another punt, giving Denver the ball back with six minutes - plenty of time to mount a comeback and overcome just a five-point deficit.
Between Melvin Gordon, Tim Patrick and backup quarterback Jeff Driskel, the Broncos’ offense marched from its own 18-yard line to Pittsburgh’s 15. But with two downs to make two yards and keep the drive alive, the offense fizzled behind an incomplete pass and a sack.
The play-calling there was questionable.
The protection was more of the same in a game in which the offensive line gave up 19 hits and seven sacks.
Driskel held onto the ball way too long and took a sack at the worst possible moment of the game.
As Jess Place wrote, the Broncos just don’t seem to know how finish games for a win.
But that wasn’t all that surprising. Disappointing, but not surprising.
This team has fight. We are all looking in the mirror to figure out what we can do better. Like dalton said there’s no moral victories, but there’s absolutely things to build on. Watch the tape, improve, onward.— jbooty (@JakeButtTE) September 20, 2020
After all this team’s offense is the second youngest in the NFL - with an average age of 25 - and some of the key positions, including quarterback, wide receiver and center, are resting on shoulders of the team’s youngest and most inexperienced players.
What was surprising is that despite losing the starting quarterback and wide receiver in the game - after already traveling to Pittsburgh without their top edge rusher, best cornerback and key running back - the Broncos were actually in a position to win.
That’s at least something.
And that’s exactly the something Steve Atwater believes Vic Fangio needs to build upon.
“We have a young team, guys who haven’t played a ton of NFL football,” Atwater told Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright on Broncos Count. “I imagine that’s the message Fangio is telling the team - ‘Just because we have injuries, we still have to play. No one is going to have a pity party for us. The Bucs are going to try to embarrass you. So you need to go out and play like superstars and get the job done.’”
Despite losing key starters at key positions, Atwater believes the Broncos do have the talent to still win games.
“I think [Broncos] have the talent,” he added. “If we go out there and put that effort in, we’ll be alright. Mark my word on that.”
For Atwater, “putting in the effort” is not just working hard on the field. It’s a lot about studying the playbook and knowing assignments and knowing routes and being able to have better communication...to help avoid things like 19 pressures and seven sacks.
But for the starters who are out there, especially the veterans, Atwater knows that they are expecting the young guys to step up. Because that’s just how it works in the NFL. You don’t get to choose your time to shine.
“The other guys want to win, and they don’t want these guys to just show up,” Atwater said. “The only way they’re going to do it, is to get in that playbook and give it 110 percent.”
It also means digging deep, especially against a Buccaneers team that isn’t going to be feeling sorry for all the injuries to the Broncos.
“The easiest thing to do is say we’ve got a bunch of injuries, let’s write this season off. ...The difficult thing to do is dig in,” Atwater said. “It’s not going to be easy. The Bucs will come in here and punch us in the mouth. We’ve got to take that punch and punch back. We better have a couple of low blows - stay in the fight and just persist.”
Possibly the worst thing to do in Atwater’s mind is talk crazy talk about getting rid of Vic Fangio and the coaching staff.
“That’s just nuts,” he said. “I’ve got 100 percent confidence in these coaches to go out there and get the job done. And we’ve got the players to do it.”
Most forced incompletions among rookie DBs— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 21, 2020
C.J. Henderson - 5
Jaylon Johnson - 4
Julian Blackmon - 2
Michael Ojemudia - 2 pic.twitter.com/4RK6ax8Jfz
One player in particular who took a beating on Sunday was rookie corner Michael Ojemudia. He was targeted 10 times and gave up 147 receiving yards plus two touchdowns.
The remedy for that kind of day?
Put him back out there.
“This is supposed to happen, though. Great players rise to the occasion,” Atwater said, noting he loved how Ojemudia responded in his post-game interview by saying he has to be better and he will be better. “He has to step back up to the plate. Every player has to do that in the league. You’re going to get tested. When it is time, step back up to the plate and knock it out of the park. He’s getting his hands on the ball. He’s in good position. That one long ball, that just happens sometimes.”
And when Edwards reiterated that Ojemudia got “roasted “on the long TD to Claypool, Atwater corrected him: “He got beat on a play, Ryan. That’s what we say. We don’t get roasted.”
So even though Ojemudia is likely to be targeted all day by Tom Brady on Sunday, Atwater is not in favor of taking him out.
“He’ll have his hands full, but that’s what it’s all about,” he added. “You got to let him play.”
Absolutely!! https://t.co/Dhj8eEaVw6— Steve Atwater (@SteveAtwater27) September 22, 2020