BRONCOS

The Broncos won, but once again they did all the small things wrong

Sep 18, 2022, 9:59 PM | Updated: Sep 19, 2022, 2:15 pm
Russell Wilson...
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

DENVER — At one point, the Broncos had too few men on the field. At another, they had too many.

They had two delay-of-game penalties — on field-goal attempts. They committed three false-start infractions — at home, where the crowd isn’t trying to break decibel meters before snaps. They followed up a 12-penalty game with a 13-flag afternoon, racking up more penalties in a two-game span than ever before in the team’s 62-year history.

They settled for two field goals in a pair of goal-to-go trips after extracting just a single field goal from three goal-to-go scenarios last week.

Oh, and the Broncos defeated the Houston Texans, 16-9.

***

This game didn’t have the end-game dramatics — and snafu — that last week’s defeat in Seattle did. But it did feature the Broncos burning all three second-half timeouts before the fourth quarter was halfway done, one of which came when they didn’t have a punt returner on the field.

Houston must mean that Nathaniel Hackett’s Broncos are one game closer to getting their game management and execution right.

Because if not, the great expectations of this season will turn into hard times faster than it takes to send in a play. Which, by the way, is still taking longer than the Bronco should like.

Several times Sunday, the crowd booed.

The Broncos expected a waterfall of boos when they went to Seattle last week. They didn’t quite foresee it coming at home. The mistakes exhausted Broncos’ fans patience after just one game.

“I don’t blame them,” Hackett said after the game. “I was booing myself. It’s frustrating.”

“Frustrating” only begins to describe some of the mistakes. Take the delay-of-game penalties, for example. The Broncos’ fourth such infraction this season wiped a 54-yard Brandon McManus field goal off the board in the third quarter.

If Hackett wasn’t counting down the play clock in his mind by the fourth quarter, he need not have worried. By the fourth quarter, the fans had that covered, too.

In a scene that sounded more like something out of Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, the Broncos’ fans — loudly — counted down the seconds on the play clock on multiple occasions in the fourth quarter.

“It made us aware. I don’t think Russell [Wilson] will have to look at the [play] clock anymore. We got that down,” running back Melvin Gordon said.

“But it was different. I’ve never had that before. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad thing or what it is. But let’s see if they keep continuing to do it.”

Added edge rusher Randy Gregory: “I’ve seen it, but not in that situation. I don’t know if they were in the right by doing that. We tried to calm them down.

“But it is what it is. They’re there to have fun. It’s our job as a team, as an offense, to handle our business.”

Can you blame the fans? The Broncos already have twice as many delay-of-game infractions as they did in the entire 2021 season. Their tally of four would be acceptable for an entire year. In fact, it was their season-long total in 2018 and 2020.

Denver supporters expect better. They came to Empower Field at Mile High anticipating greatness. They left like Star Wars fans after watching “The Phantom Menace” — some angry, others trying to convince themselves that what they saw wasn’t that bad.

At least it won’t be three years until the next chapter, 36 months of trying to rationalize midicholorians and the underutilization of Darth Maul.

But what is true is that the juggernaut some hoped to see from the Broncos after five consecutive losing seasons isn’t there. At this moment, the Broncos are a phantom menace, indeed.

They’ll need to become a real one fast.

***

It wasn’t just false starts and delay-of-game infractions, although they might be the most maddening because of how much they are within one’s control. Denver finished the day with 13 penalties — tied for the seventh-most in franchise history.

The baker’s dozen followed a dozen infractions last week. According to the data compiled at pro-football-reference.com, the Broncos’ 25 penalties are the most in a two-game span in club history.

“We’re gonna make it really tough if we continue the pre-snap penalties and the things that we can control,” wide receiver Kendall Hinton said. “So, I think that’s a lesson that we’ll take.”

Now, here’s the bright side — plenty of other teams with 25 penalties in their first two games didn’t all turn out bad.

So, this doesn’t mean the end.

But it does mean the Broncos have plenty to fix.

As a result of the repeated self-defenestration, Broncos had to scratch and claw to survive against a team that, for the fifth time in its last nine road games, failed to score a touchdown.

Away from Houston, the Texans have more power failures than their home state in a cold snap. The Texans averaged 10.8 offensive points per road game last year; Denver’s defense overcame the absences of Justin Simmons and Josey Jewell and the loss of Pat Surtain to a shoulder injury to keep the Texans’ grid from generating much wattage.

The Broncos can consider themselves fortunate that while their offense misfires, they played two teams with offenses that appear to be stuck on the launching pad. The Broncos certainly played a part in that.

Denver probably won’t find itself in such a favorable spot next Sunday against the 49ers. Sixteen points and a dozen or so penalties for a third-straight game seems likely to leave the Broncos at 1-2.

***

And finally, this: A few members of the Colorado Avalanche watched the game. The Broncos honored them during a first-quarter timeout. The Avs bathed in the sunshine and yet another salute to their thrilling Stanley Cup weekend.

And then the Broncos retook the field and did all the small things wrong.

“Cleaning up the little things like penalties, finishing in the red zone — once we do those things — and we’re going to do those things — it’s going to be a pretty scary sight,” tight end Eric Saubert said.

For now, the only thing scary is the timing and game-management mishaps.

But at least the Broncos are 1-1.

So after that win, turn the lights off, carry the Broncos home to UCHealth Training Center and let them sleep this off. And then, they need to spend the next several days going back to basics.

Because if they can’t get the small things within their control right, they won’t be able to function when big things beyond their control inevitably go wrong.

***

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The Broncos won, but once again they did all the small things wrong