Here’s how the little things added up to a big Week 1 Broncos disappointment
SEATTLE — Let’s just get the litany of laments out of the way at the start.
In Monday night’s 17-16 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, the Broncos …
- … committed more penalties than in any game in nearly three years;
- … had as many delay-of-game penalties (2) as they did for the entirety of the 2021 season;
- … allowed an opposing quarterback with five starts in the last seven seasons to complete his first 13 passes …
- … lost two fumbles at the 1-yard line;
- … scored just 6 of a possible 28 points in four red-zone tries;
- … didn’t force a Seahawks punt until the fourth quarter;
- … mangled the end-game situation to where a first-and-10 at the Denver 49-yard line with 1:24 remaining and three timeouts somehow turned into a desperate, 64-yard field-goal attempt.
“The little minute things that make a big difference,” safety Justin Simmons said.
And with all that, and yet in a cauldron of noise, with perhaps the loudest sustained booing heard at an NFL game in many years, the Broncos were only a point short.
“If we convert any of those chances in the red zone, then it doesn’t come down to kicking it from the moon,” fullback/tight end Andrew Beck said.
Indeed, while the debate over McManus’ attempt is one of the truly fascinating topics of this game, it actually was the epilogue.
The climax of the Broncos’ cascade of bobbles and self-inflicted wounds actually happened moments earlier, when the Broncos took their time on a potential game-winning drive, effectively taking their foot off the accelerator after a second half spent marching up and down the field.
Yes, the fact that the Broncos needed a score in those final moments reflected inefficiency in closing those drives. Their first three second-half possessions all reached goal-to-go.
But Russell Wilson and the offense had Seattle on its heels for most of the final two-and-a-half quarters. They overcame long-yardage down and distances. They were as effective on the ground as in the air. Four Broncos possessions in the game covered at least 72 yards. And four different skill-position players had at least 70 yards from scrimmage.
Seattle’s defense couldn’t key on any one Bronco because Javonte Williams, Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Melvin Gordon all gashed the Seahawks at various points. More games like Monday’s and the Broncos will feature four players that accumulate at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage, something they’ve never had before.
And yet … all made crucial mistakes.
Williams and Gordon had fumbles at the 1-yard line, although in both cases, defenders met them in the backfield, leaving them little room to operate. Jeudy dropped a pass on the final possession.
And Sutton committed a false-start penalty that prevented a touchdown. The play continued despite the pre-snap infraction, resulting in a 3-yard Wilson-to-Beck shovel pass for a score. But with the penalty, the Broncos had two subsequent incompletions and settled for a 26-yard Brandon McManus field goal with 6:16 left.
That would represent the final points of the night.
“It comes down to us understanding that we beat ourselves,” Sutton said. “And if we roll into this week of practice and this week of preparation with the right mindset and everything we can do, we know that we’re going to be able to have the success that we want to have in the future.”
And after the mistake-strangled effort, it was hard to argue that the lack of preseason work didn’t have an impact.
“Not having no preseason definitely, in my opinion, played a factor in that,” safety Kareem Jackson said.
“But at the same time, we made the adjustments that we needed to make in the second half.”
In the second half, the Broncos never punted, and the Seahawks ran just one play in Denver territory: the final snap, a kneeldown. Bradley Chubb had two sacks. Randy Gregory forced a fumble.
On that side of the ball, the Broncos looked as they were supposed to.
“In the first half, a lot of mistakes,” Jackson said. “But to bounce back the way we did the second half — definitely a positive thing for us.”
And to be certain, other teams that eschewed preseason work did worse. Nathaniel Hackett knows this well; he endured a 38-3 Week 1 loss with Green Bay last September. The Packers won 13 of their next 16 games.
Now, the AFC offers more pitfalls than the NFC did last year. One wouldn’t expect the Broncos to rip off a similar run as Green Bay did last year. The Packers played in a division with three losing teams; the Broncos might face a division in which everyone finishes above .500.
But it wasn’t hard to glimpse at the Broncos on Monday and see the possibilities. The offense looked crisper than it had in ages. Sustained drives were the norm, not the exception. The form of Jeudy, Sutton, Gordon and Williams forced Seattle into pick-your-poison mode.
“It’s not, ‘Wow, we’ve gotta burn down the house and try all over again,'” Beck said. “It’s that we can fix little things here and we’ll be just fine.”
But on Monday, those little things added up to a big loss.
How big? The Broncos won’t know that for quite awhile. If they fall one game short of a division title or a playoff spot, then it will be as big as it gets.
For now, they can only try to improve — and prevent the self-immolation that defined the first game of the Hackett-Wilson era.
“No excuses,” left guard Dalton Risner said. “At the end of the day, we’ve got to be better.”