ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Bronco defense played the worst game in its 64-year history on Sunday. The 70 points allowed to the Miami Dolphins were a team record. So were the 726 yards and the 10 touchdowns.
“It’s tough to lose like this,” star cornerback Pat Surtain II said after the 50-point loss. “We just have to regroup and look at the film and just get better. There’s nothing else you can say.”
Even Surtain, arguably the best defensive back in the league, struggled. The Dolphins subbed in their backup offense in the fourth quarter, including practice squad receiver Robbie Chosen. Chosen blew by Surtain and hauled in a 68-yard touchdown.
“That’s just bad execution by me,” Surtain said. “I just have to stay deep and lock on my guy. There’s no excuses for that. In that situation, I had to lock in and make a play, and I didn’t.”
Just about everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Broncos on Sunday. That’s the only way you give up the most points in an NFL game since 1966 and the most yards from scrimmage since 1951.
Despite the performance, the Broncos aren’t losing hope.
“The loss was bad. I mean really, really bad,” All-Pro safety Justin Simmons said. “The moral of the story is this next game can’t come fast enough. A win kind of cures all things. Miami is Miami. As soon as Monday is over with—that 24-hour rule after the game—that game is done. Win, loss, draw, whatever it looked like, that game is done. You move on. It’s the NFL. In the same ways that nobody cares what you did years prior, nobody cares what you did the week before because you’ve still got to go out on Sunday and prove it.”
The Broncos, as always, held firm with the 24-hour rule this week. They reviewed the tape from the game on Monday. By Tuesday, they were done thinking about it. The locker room on Wednesday—the first day that reporters are allowed in—was as energetic as ever.
“It was a lot of stuff on that film that we learn from quick,” Surtain said. “It’s one of those films that you look at it, learn from it and just let it go. Obviously, we wasn’t tackling great as a unit. We had a game plan, and we didn’t execute in all phases of the game play. When that stuff happens, that’s what happens, that’s the result. We learn from it, grow from it and move on.”
Nobody is free from blame after that game. Even Simmons, who didn’t participate because of a hip injury, said that there were things he could have done differently to give the Broncos a better shot. He didn’t share the details.
The missed tackles are an easy way to show that nobody’s hands are clean. By Pro Football Focus’ count, 12 different Broncos missed a tackle and eight of them missed multiple. Denver’s 23 missed tackles were the most by the team by a wide margin since PFF started counting in 2009. For perspective, the Broncos missed 49 tackles in the entire 2010 season.
But practicing tackling is difficult because most teams—including the Broncos—never tackle to the ground except in games.
“Tackling is all about positioning,” Simmons said. “Obviously you can’t recreate the actual full-on tackle to the ground, but you can run to the ball, get low pad level, bend your knees, be in a good square [position]—or depending on where the runner is with the sideline—be in a good position to finish everything all the way up until making the contact.”
Tackling the Dolphins can be particularly difficult.
“A team like that will expose you with their speed because of the angles you’re taking or the leverage you are in,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said.
Joseph has taken a beating this week. His defense was lackluster in the first two games—the Raiders scored on three of their six possessions in the opener and the Commanders scored 35 points in the Broncos’ second game. Through three weeks, his team has allowed 40.7 points per game, by far the worst mark in the NFL.
Of course, the 70-point outing against the Dolphins tanked that number.
“When your unit plays that way, my first thought is that it’s me,” Joseph said. “[It’s about] doing better as a coach and getting guys ready for the challenge. It was a tough day from play one to play whatever we played. As an experienced coach, when those days happen, it’s always me first. I’ll fix it quickly. I have to.”
Despite the slow start, the Broncos’ defense believes in Joseph to help turn the unit around.
“Obviously, he was very disappointed,” Surtain said. “I mean, everybody was. But the thing with him is, he’s always the same person. No matter what, he believes in us, believes in his whole defensive unit. When you’ve got a guy like that, that believes in you, all you’ve gotta do is just play of one another, just work for one another on the defensive side of the ball. Because it doesn’t take one person, doesn’t take two people, it takes all 11.”
Simmons stood firmly in Joseph’s corner when asked about his coach’s performance.
“You go and watch that film and there are numerous amoonts of things, obviously, that went wrong,” he said. “But in no way ,shape or form does that come down to one person.”
Simmons thinks the Broncos’ defense, which has carried the team for seven years, can turn around.
“Coach Joseph, I believe in him,” Simmons said. “I believe in his staff. I believe in the players that we have in the room.”
The Broncos have a chance to bounce back against the Bears on Sunday. Justin Fields is an electric threat at quarterback, but Chicago hasn’t been able to turn his athletic ability into success. The Bears have only won five games with Fields at quarterback since he took over as a rookie in 2021 and they’ve lost 13 games in a row.
“He’s just an all-around athlete,” Surtain said. “He just possess a different trait from the majority of the quarterbacks in the NFL with his running ability. He’s very strong. He’s got a strong arm, as well. With a guy like that, the challenge is keeping him contained, keep him in the pocket. He’s very dangerous when he runs the ball, so that’s the main thing for us defensively.”
The Broncos are favored against the Bears and will be favored again next week against the Jets, if they can handle business on Sunday. All of a sudden, that 0-3 record could turn into a 2-3 record with a trip to Kansas City for a Thursday Night Football game on the docket.
But a win in Chicago is the key to getting the season back on track.
“All you need is one to get that momentum swing, just to have that winning feeling,” Surtain said. “This game is very important for us. Obviously, we want that first win in our column. We’re preparing the right way, just focused on winning, building that winning culture for this week.”
Simmons, who is questionable for Sunday’s game, has a similar feeling.
“The way I’m approaching it is your backs are against the wall,” he said. “You’re fighting, you’re scratching, you’re clawing. Both teams need one.”