Despite being one of the best comeback stories in the NFL for the 2023 season, the Denver Broncos showed Saturday evening in Detroit that they still have a ways to go in regards to becoming legitimate postseason contenders.
The team was absolutely walloped by the home team Lions, who were playing with a renewed sense of determination after a five-game stretch of looking largely mediocre. Unfortunately for the Broncos, their opponents played far more like the division leaders they established themselves as early in the season than the team who had more recently been playing on wobbly legs.
“We tip our hats to Detroit,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said after the game. “They kind of kicked our butts tonight. They outplayed us, they outcoached us. There wasn’t a lot positive for us in that game. Thought those guys did a real good job, the red area, third down, really in all phases. So, frustrating night. It’s tough to have one of these nights. Obviously, there’s a lot at stake.”
The Broncos’ defense, who has miraculously become one of the league’s fiercest units since allowing 70 points in Miami back in September, allowed the most points since that game and surrendered five touchdown passes to Jared Goff in addition to allowing 185 yards on the ground to Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery.
With the defense playing on their heels, the offense could not do their part in leveling the playing field. The dominant run defense of Detroit stifled the Broncos run game, and the pass game could not rise to the occasion to get the team in striking distance.
“I thought (the Lions’ defense) did a good job of doing a lot of different things,” Broncos QB Russell Wilson said. “I think that we’ve just got to play cleaner. I mean, that’s just really – if we can play a little cleaner, play a little sharper – they played well tonight. They played really well and we could’ve played better.”
The game appeared even in the first quarter, ending in a 0-0 score, but the Lions exploded in the second quarter for three touchdowns to go up 21-0 at halftime. The offense for the Broncos found some life in the second quarter with an early touchdown and then an opportunity to make it a two-touchdown game.
However, an offsides penalty on a fourth-and-one at the goal line nullified a touchdown, forcing the Broncos to kick a field goal to make it 28-10, a seeming turning point and momentum killer in the game. An animated Sean Payton was seen screaming at Russell Wilson on the sideline after the sequence, leading to questions after the game.
“I think, more than anything else, we were just frustrated we didn’t score there, because we were going to make that 28-14,” Wilson said of the sideline exchange. “Obviously, they end up stopping us, and that was the really, honestly, the disappointing part, because of that play where (Broncos FB Michael) Burton got in. I think that’s just we’re a little frustrated.”
Payton was vague on the incident, but like Wilson, said it was more frustration over the offsides call.
“It is what it is,” he said of the call. ““I was upset about the call. That’s all. Simple. That’s it.”
He did wanted to make it clear that he was upset at the call and not at Wilson, but regarding what was said exactly, that’s between Wilson and Payton.
“No,” he replied when asked if he was yelling at Wilson. “I was upset at the call...what I talk with Russell about is none of your business.”
The team’s chances at the postseason take a tough hit with the loss, but they still have a chance, albeit a smaller one, to squeeze in, and Payton said the team will not relent.
“This is a tough league,” he said. “And like I said to the players afterwards, ‘You’re going to play in these games once in a while. It’s difficult to swallow.’ Certainly, as coaches, it starts with us. We’ve got to be better, but man, we’ve got to be able to shake it pretty soon here and then get ready to play New England.”
Wilson also expressed optimism that his team can rebound and finish the season strong.
“We knew that it was going to be a challenge against these guys,” he said. “We also knew, though, this stretch that we put ourselves early in the season that we’ve got to keep believing. And we’ve done it before. We believe we’re going to do it again and we can’t think any other way...I know our environment back home is one of the toughest places to play in the National Football League, so we’re looking forward to our fans and them helping us win these last few games here.”
The Broncos return home next week, where they hope to bounce back against the New England Patriots in another prime time matchup on the NFL Network.