Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Denver Broncos Community!

Here's how the Denver Broncos' faint playoff hopes died

Andrew Mason Avatar
December 27, 2021

LAS VEGAS — The 62nd edition of the Broncos was not built to be able to win when it could neither run the football nor stop the run.

Few teams are, really. According to pro-football-reference, the Broncos on Sunday became the 108th team to allow at least 150 rushing yards while gaining fewer than 25 of them on the ground. Those teams are now 4-103-1, and no team has won a game with that stat line in 35 years.

But this Broncos team doesn’t have another gear.

And when the primary path to victory evaporated, the Broncos couldn’t shift gears. Their offense stalled repeatedly; their defense couldn’t get off the field.

The final score at Allegiant Stadium was 17-13.

It should have been worse.

It would have been, if not for three takeaways — including two in a calamitous final 2:05 of the first half for the Raiders. Denver scored 10 points off those giveaways — even though the Broncos netted just five yards and a single first down from the two possessions.

Usually, when a team allows at least 340 yards and 20 or more first downs while generating fewer than 10 first downs and under 160 yards of offense — as the Broncos did Sunday — the result is a thrashing. Since the AFL-NFL merger, the 181 teams to endure this have lost by an average score of 29-6.

Only the takeaways kept Sunday’s score respectable and the game competitive.

But an L is an L.

For the second consecutive year, it was Loss Vegas.

A Raiders defense that is frequently gashed turns dominant against the Broncos. In their last 24 games, the Raiders have held just three teams below 17 points. One foe was Cleveland last Monday, led by emergency QB Nick Mullens. The other two were the Broncos in their first two trips to Nevada.

The Broncos lost to the Raiders for the fifth time in six tries since Vic Fangio became the head coach. The Silver and Black are 26-43 in the last three seasons against everyone else, but they’re 5-1 against Denver.

No Broncos coach has struggled like this against the Raiders since Wade Phillips, whose 1993 and 1994 Broncos lost five games to them — including a playoff defeat.

Getting whupped by the Raiders repeatedly has been an unforgivable sin in Broncos Country, as Phillips found out 27 years ago; he was subsequently sacked and replaced by Mike Shanahan.

The same fate could loom for Fangio, whose Broncos were effectively eliminated from the postseason with the defeat. Only a mathematical miracle worthy of Ramanujan, Euclid or Pythagoras can save the Broncos now.

Offensively, the Broncos were left with few options Sunday but to try and emphasize a ground game that has been their most reliable aspect. But Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon were often swarmed as soon as they got the football, and they finished with a meager 8 rushing yards between them — with Gordon finishing the day with a ghastly minus-4 yards.

Teams with a clear franchise QB can still operate despite the vanishing of their ground game. But the Broncos don’t have that luxury.

Not when one quarterback struggles to push the football downfield and the other needs a specific game plan in order to play turnover-free football. The former, Teddy Bridgewater, was unavailable after suffering a concussion last week.

That left the latter, Drew Lock, to execute a game plan that was designed to be heavy on ball control, with judicious downfield shots, often out of play-action. Both of the Broncos’ two longest gains were off of play-fakes.

That part worked.

But the aspect of the game designed to set up play-action? That failed.

Denver had averaged 150.7 yards per game on the ground in the previous six games. In Las Vegas, it mustered just 18 yards on 16 carries — and was only saved from a single-digit output by a pair of 5-yard runs by Lock.

The Broncos had not been as dominant defending the run, but they had held their own in spite of losing both of their intended starting inside linebackers before Week 7.

And while other teams had rushed for more than the 160 yards amassed by the Raiders on the ground Sunday, none had prepared Denver for the second-half onslaught Sunday. The Raiders abandoned all pretense of balance and ran on 28 of 35 snaps in the third and fourth quarters — including eight of nine on the opening drive of the second half, a 75-yard march that ended in a Peyton Barber 5-yard scoring run that put the Raiders in front to stay.

Fangio’s defense got the takeaways, and with an offense that avoids giveaways, that is almost always enough to win. Teams with a plus-3 turnover margin and no giveaways of their own came into Sunday with a 25-1-1 record this season when hitting those marks — and 77-7-1 since the start of the 2019 season.

These Broncos are exceptional — but they’re the wrong kind. And worst of all, this isn’t even the first time the Broncos have done it in the last 12 months; they lost the 2020 season finale to the Raiders despite being plus-4 in turnover margin with no giveaways.

That sums up the Broncos of not only this season and the Fangio era, but of a four-year run of losing seasons that will become five if Denver cannot win its first two games of the 2022 calendar year.

In situations where you are supposed to win, the Broncos find ways to seize defeats.

Sunday, it was Loss Vegas.

Next week, it could be Loss Angeles.

And on it goes.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?