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Instant Reaction: Broncos blow it vs. Commanders in heartbreaking 35-33 loss

After starting off the game hot and leading 21-3, the Denver Broncos imploded in the worst way possible enroute to a 35-33 loss to the Washington Commanders.

NFL: Washington Commanders at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos were on fire to start this afternoon’s game against the Washington Commanders. All of Broncos Country thought it was a certain victory when they started off hot and up 21-3. It had been well over a decade since they had started off so well.

Alas, that fire and quick start—just like last week against the Las Vegas Raiders—only lasted for one half. And when the game clock struck zero, despite a miraculous Hail Mary at the end of the game, the Broncos were on the losing side of the equation once more by a score of 35-33.

It was another heartbreaking loss for the Broncos, who have now fallen to 0-2 on the season. Any hope fans had for the remainder of the season, even with fifteen games left, has likely been vanquished after today’s unacceptable loss.

There’s a lot to take in from today’s game, in fact, too many things for me to write about. So let’s take a look at some of my instant reactions for today’s game.

Significant Areas of Concern

Vance Joseph’s Defense and Coverage Struggles

I usually don’t like to start off my Instant Reaction installments with the negative aspects of the game, but after today’s performance there really isn’t another choice.

The Broncos lost for a variety of reasons today, but Vance Joseph’s “bend but don’t break” play calling was a primary culprit in their meltdown.

Soft zone coverage? Not ideal. Mistakes and miscommunication on the defensive backend? A recipe for disaster. On top of that, Damarri Mathis continues to be a problem and weak part of the Broncos’ secondary. He allowed two touchdowns again today. Unfortunately, the Broncos have several injuries in the secondary and it’s unknown when Riley Moss will be healthy enough to make his way into the game day lineups.

The Broncos’ pass rush did a much better job today and Jonathon Cooper and Nik Bonitto looked pretty darn good, but unfortunately those flashes weren’t enough on a consistent basis to make much of a difference.

If the Broncos want to turn things around, significant changes are going to have to come on the defensive side of the ball. A lot of fans were apprehensive when the team announced they were bringing back Joseph, and now after today’s loss, those concerns seem to have a lot of merit.

Russell Wilson’s turnovers and second half performance

You don’t win many games when you turn the ball over. The 2023 Minnesota Vikings have proven that in their first two games to date.

Today, Russell Wilson had a costly fumble and interception which took points off the board for the Broncos and resulted in a minimum 6-point swing for the team. While he did look extremely good in the first half, he did struggle in the second half once more. I’m not exactly sure what is going on there with Wilson, but he needs to clean things up and protect the ball and make better decisions.

Second Half Offensive Line Play

I thought the Broncos’ offensive line did a really good job in the first half, but they really struggled in the second half. You know, exactly what didn’t need to happen in order to attempt and secure victory.

It was a disastrous performance. They allowed seven sacks in that timeframe and couldn’t hold back the Commanders’ ferocious front seven—which was one of the key areas they needed to succeed in order to come out with a win.

Positives Worthy of Praise

Sean Payton’s Play Calling — Phenomenal for the First Half

The Broncos had three touchdowns on their first three offensive drives — a feat that hadn’t happened since 2010 against the Kansas City Chiefs. It could have very well been four, but quarterback Russell Wilson fumbled near the red zone on their fourth drive of the half.

Head Coach Sean Payton’s play calling in the first half was a primary reason for that. It was nice to see them have Jaleel McLaughlin involved in a red zone package, as well as getting numerous receivers involved in the passing game. But after that fast 21-3 start, the offense just wasn’t the same and sputtered the entire second half—just like they did against the Raiders.

Welcome to the NFL, Marvin Mims!

Earlier in the week I had wrote and spoke about the need to get Marvin Mims more involved in the team’s offense plans. It appears Payton and I were on the same wavelength—at least to some degree.

The rookie second-round pick had a tremendous first half with 2 catches for 113 yards and a touchdown on two targets. He also had a 45-yard punt return in the second quarter. That’s 150 all-purpose yards. Quite impressive!

But after his incredible first half performance, Mims wasn’t targeted in the receiving game the entire second half and only had one touch offensively on a running play. That’s absolutely unacceptable and I can’t believe the Broncos allowed that to happen. If Denver wants to keep things rolling on offense, they need to figure out a way to get him involved more. He is just too talented to have such minimal looks in their offensive game plans.

Broncos Country, sound off in the comments section and give me your biggest concerns and takeaways from today’s game!