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BALTIMORE — The Broncos are done with last season, they’ve said it time and time again. Unfortunately, though, last season isn’t done with them.
Is it just me, or did Sunday’s implosion in the final 35 minutes look all too familiar to the seven losses Denver suffered on the road in 2017?
“I’m done talking about last year, bruh,” Chris Harris Jr. said in the locker room.
“Nope,” Darian Stewart blurted from the locker beside him. “I’ll answer that for you.”
They say the first step to recovery is acceptance. But we didn’t need to hear those quotes to know that Sunday’s loss was a step down the wrong path.
One thing sure looked different from last year, as the Broncos stormed out of the gates and took a 7-0 lead after a three-and-out and a blocked punt. Directly following that touchdown, though, the first bit of adversity struck, and it served as a harbinger of things to come.
As kick returner Tim White ran out of bounds following a nice return to the 37-yard line, he slid up underneath the legs of Issac Yiadom. As he stood up, it appeared Yiadom jumped so as not to get undercut and gave White a slight push in the process. 15-yard penalty, the first of many questionable calls on the Broncos Sunday.
“When I saw them call that, I knew what type of day it was about to be,” one Bronco said in the locker room.
After that, it took Joe Flacco just five plays and just over two minutes to drive 48 yards and tie the game. Uh oh.
The Broncos would go on to defy last year’s trends one more time following that, though, as they drove 70 yards in just under four minutes to get back on the board and take a 14-7 lead. 14 points in eight minutes. The shootout was on, right?
Denver didn’t score another point in the final 52 minutes of the game.
Now, the probably should have. Denver got robbed on what should have been a 58-yard blocked field goal return for a touchdown by Chris Harris Jr. after an unbelievably athletic play from Justin Simmons.
Some 25 yards behind the play, Denver got called for a block in the back.
“I can’t figure what they were calling,” Derek Wolfe said after the game. “I don’t understand who they were calling it on or what the penalty really was. The refs couldn’t figure it out. It makes you wonder, right?”
The refs originally told the Denver sideline that the call was on No. 77, but Denver doesn’t have a 77 on field goal block. The ref then said it was on No. 37, but Denver doesn’t even have a No. 37 on their team.
The likely reason the ref didn’t know who he called the penalty on is because he threw the flag from 25 yards behind the alleged foul that happened 25 yards behind the ball.
Upon further review, it appears as if he called the penalty on Domata Peko (No. 94) who gave a light shove to the shoulder of Baltimore’s No. 77, Bradley Bozeman, allowing Bozeman to flop his way to the ground and draw the call.
“I hardly even touched him!” Peko told me after the game after I let him know I thought they called it on him.
“They gave us some bulls*** today,” added the usually chill and mild-mannered Peko.
He’s right, but as focused as they were on that play in the locker room, it felt like they were equally as focused on it on the field.
Instead of a touchdown, Denver got the ball at the Baltimore 49-yard line. Three plays later, Case Keenum was strip-sacked, and in the pileup, running back Phillip Lindsay—Denver’s key offensive player over the first two weeks—was called for throwing a punch, 15 yards and an ejection.
After the game, he claimed he was trying to punch the ball out after it came loose in the pile, but it didn’t matter. As Lindsay walked into the tunnel, Denver’s morale went with him. They were stuck in a rut precisely six feet under the muddy ground.
A few plays later Denver punted for the fourth possession in a row. On their next drive, they punted again. And again. And again. Seven in a row. The only thing that could break the punt streak was an interception and a turnover on downs.
And that’s where last year comes into play. When adversity struck, and they didn’t have 76,000 fans to lift them up, Denver folded, eventually getting outscored 10-0 over the course of the rest of the game.
“That was a rough sequence for us, something that we had to crawl out of or climb out of,” linebacker Todd Davis said in a frustrated locker room. “Sometimes you’re going to be faced with adversity, and I think we have to do a better job of responding when it comes up.”
For the eighth time in nine games, the Broncos didn’t have the response; there is no hiding from that. The 2-0 honeymoon has come to a screeching halt because, even if they don’t want to acknowledge it, this 2-1 start looks very familiar.
“We should have won this game. This is a game we should have won,” Derek Wolfe said. “When you’re winning like we did the last couple weeks, some of the stuff gets swept under the rug.”
Underneath that rug were some ugly dust bunnies, and now they’ve been stirred into the air.
Vance Joseph, the poor clock management at the end of the half isn’t going to cut it outside of the friendly confines.
Case Keenum, zero-touchdown-one-interception performances turn into losses out here.
Joe Woods, tight ends averaging 30 yards a catch gets you beat on the road.
Bill Musgrave, 14 points isn’t gonna do it.
And for the playmakers on the team, the only way to get out of an adversity-induced rut is to make a big play, so somebody’s going to have to start making them.
There is plenty of blame to be doled out, but in the end, it comes down to one very simple phrase—when the going gets tough, the tough get going. Denver needs to find a way to toughen up, and they need to find it fast.