Down 22-10 entering the fourth quarter vs. the Houston Texans, the Broncos managed to not only strike within five points on a Russell Wilson touchdown, but had the ball inside the Texans’ 10 yard-line with 30 seconds to go. If the Broncos score, it’s game over, but the clutch magic that Wilson possessed the past several weeks was apparently left back in Denver, as the QB threw a game-ending interception on a third-down attempt.
It was his third of the game.
Turnovers could be argued as what single-handedly gave the game to the Texans, who finished the game with zero. Following the game, head coach Sean Payton touched on the irony of his team, who had been turnover-creating machines the past several games, being on the other side of the coin.
“We’ve been a team that has played well with takeaways and giveaways, but that script flipped today,” he said. “We (committed) three of them, and we didn’t get any. We’ll get the tape tomorrow, but it starts with us coaches. It starts with me, we have to do a better job.”
Despite not forcing any turnovers, the defense could hardly be assigned primary blame for the loss, as the offense simply did not move the ball enough. Wilson, who has essentially taken up the role of a game manager during the team’s five-game win streak, completed just north of 50% of his passes while throwing for under 200 yards for the fifth time in the past six games. He did throw and run for a touchdown, but his aforementioned three interceptions were crucial.
In recent weeks, the low passing yardage was not of major significance, as Javonte Williams and the run game provided enough of a boost. That didn’t happen this week, as Williams led all Broncos rushers with just 46 yards on the ground.
For Payton, though, it was the lack of execution on third down that had him the most frustrated.
“I thought we were sloppy for most of the game,” he said. “We struggled on third down. I don’t think we converted a third down offensively, just a fourth.”
Indeed, the Broncos were a pitiful 0-11 on third down and had under 300 yards of total offense. Those numbers rarely are followed by victory, and the Broncos’ offense is going to absolutely have to figure out how to move the sticks. Otherwise, the chances at the playoffs, now significantly diminished, are gone.
To expect the team to continue the winning streak throughout the rest of the season is perhaps expecting a tad too much, but what can be taken away from the game is the glaring deficiencies that are holding the team back.
The offense simply needs to be better, and if the Russell Wilson game manager experiment is indeed over and accounted for now by defensive coordinators, the QB will have to find a way to make big plays once again. And Payton will have to put more trust in his QB, as the coach certainly understands what is at stake.
“We didn’t play our best football,” he said. “We’re going to have to down the stretch here.”