DENVER, Colo. — Mike McGlinchey says the Broncos turned a corner.
“I know people are going to say it’s the same old Broncos, but I guarantee you it’s not,” McGlinchey said.
For six years, the Broncos were bad and boring. They averaged less than six wins per season. They averaged a 27th-place finish in scoring. Fans were frustrated. Many said something like this: “If you’re not going to win, at least entertain me.”
They got what they wanted on Sunday: The Broncos lost in the most exciting way possible.
A quick 21-3 lead built on the back of a pair of bombs to a rookie wideout. A 95.9% chance of winning the game, according to ESPN’s FPI, that flipped to a likely loss in 11 minutes of game time. A fourth-quarter stand that gave the offense a chance at a comeback. A Hail Mary at the buzzer. A controversial non-call on the potential game-tying two-point conversion.
All of that just to lose 35-33 to the Washington Commanders. Bad and exciting might not be any better than bad and boring.
So, what went wrong? Jonathon Cooper had some thoughts after his two-sack night.
“It is those little things,” Cooper said. “We have to be better on the details. It is just frustrating to see all the work we put in. We had a good week leading up to it, and you can see that in the first quarter. We have to continue with that play and get better.”
The biggest of the little thing? Penalties.
A second-quarter facemask on Nik Bonitto negated a sack, turning a 3rd & 18 into a 1st & 10. A few plays later, the Commanders scored a touchdown.
A third-down offsides on Thomas Incoom gave the Commanders a free play before halftime, which Washington turned into a 25-yard gain. They kicked a field goal as time expired in the half.
A pass interference from Pat Surtain II handed the Commanders a free first down on 2nd & 15. A few plays later, the Commanders scored a touchdown to take their first lead of the game.
A defensive holding from Fabian Moreau negated a third-down sack. Instead of giving the ball back to the Broncos offense, the Washington offense marched down the field to score a touchdown and build an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Last year, the Broncos led the NFL in penalty yards. Through the first two weeks of this season, Denver is the most penalized team in the league. And the defense has been the primary offender.
“We didn’t do our end of the deal on defense,” Justin Simmons said. “Too many points, too many yards, too many penalties. We just hurt ourselves.”
Head coach Sean Payton was blunt in his evaluation of the defense.
“I thought we were poor,” he said. “I didn’t think we played well, and we’re going to see a lot better offenses than that.”
It’s easy to see why Payton is disappointed. After building a 21-3 lead, the Broncos gave up scores on five of seven Washington possessions. One of the stops was when Washington was content to run the ball and grind clock in the final minutes. The other was a missed field goal.
“I felt like we let them back in,” Payton said. “In this league the leads can evaporate quickly, and this one did.”
But the failures didn’t come solely from the defense. The Broncos’ offense struggled to swap personnel quickly and they broke the huddle late often.
“That has to change,” Payton said. “We had to burn timeouts in the first half, and I’m not used to doing [that]. We have to be better. I have to be better. Russ has to be sharper with getting the play out, and then we have to look at how much we have in. If we need to wristband it, we will.”
McGlinchey saw the same problems.
“I don’t think there’s any one fix,” he said. “I think everybody just has to be on their Ps and Qs. I think we’ve got to get substitutions in the right way. We’ve got to get calls in the right way. We have to communicate the right way and make sure that when we do those things, we have enough time on the play clock. I don’t think we were sound enough.”
The details might be the difference between a win and a loss in a tight game, but the Broncos’ implosion after getting off to such a hot start might be more concerning.
“I don’t think we were composed enough when things were going wrong,” McGlinchey said. “You can’t let that linger for as long as we did in this football game. We started way too good. We had them on the ropes, right from the jump. We stalled way too long, and that’s just not OK.”
In football cliché, the Broncos still need to learn how to win.
“I am upset, disappointed and frustrated,” Cooper said. “Frustration is probably the biggest thing. We are a good a team. For us to put the work in we do all week and to not come out with a win, it is disappointing. We have to turn this around.”
Time is running out. Less than 10% of teams that start 0-2 make the playoffs.
“Everyone is going to write us off,” Simmons said. “Everyone is going to have their opinions and they’re going to say what they are going to say. But that doesn’t change that we have a game next week in Miami. We’ve got to go win the game. I’m not going to pay attention to what anyone has to say. At the end of the day, we’ve got to go play these games. We have to find ways to win, and we will win.”
The season isn’t over—it’s only the middle of September—but an 0-3 start would spell doom.
“It’s really, really, really hard to win,” McGlinchey said.
The Broncos have six days to learn how, otherwise we’re about to see four months of meaningless—and that means boring—football.