BRONCOS

In Tinseltown’s shadow, Broncos produce another box-office dud

Oct 18, 2022, 1:05 AM
Russell Wilson...
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Monday night, deep in a sprawling region built on dreams, imagination and hype, the 2022 Broncos took another step towards being a box-office bomb.

Never in Broncos history has there been a greater gap between advance expectations and reality.

And the 19-16 overtime defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers only widened the gulf between the two.

The advance buzz was for explosive, dynamic offense. Creative play-calling. And most importantly, a nine-time Pro Bowl quarterback playing like the future Hall of Famer he appeared to be in his first decade in the NFL.

The actual result is a product worthy of the Golden Raspberry Awards.

And after the offense turned its strongest start of the season into a putrid fade, these 2-4 Broncos found themselves staring down the kind of questions no one thought they’d face.

Specifically, questions about whether the team was coming apart just six weeks into what was supposed to be the start of a golden age.

***

In these past six games, Denver’s defense allowed just six touchdowns. The comparisons to the “No-Fly Zone” Broncos are understandable.

But even a great defense can only do but so much.

In the final minutes of regulation and overtime, Denver’s defense held the Chargers to a single first down and just 23 net yards from four drives. All three of Los Angeles’ overtime drives ended without a first down.

And yet the Broncos lost because of a mangled punt return and an offense that finished with minus-9 yards from 14 pass plays after halftime.

In an era defined by the passing game, with a quarterback guaranteed a staggering $165 million from the contract he signed in September, and with a head coach hired because of his work to help guide Aaron Rodgers to arguably the two best seasons of an all-time career that output is mind-blowingly bad.

The offense struggled in the overtime loss to Indianapolis, too, but the mood was different Monday.

After that defeat Oct. 6, a sense of confidence and defiance remained. That was absent in the gloom of Monday’s defeat. Players spoke quietly, in hushed tones. The locker room was somber and funereal.

It was as if the accumulating issues of the last six weeks finally became too much to bear — especially for the defense.

What this defense has done is good enough to win.

A dichotomy like the one that is growing between the performances of the offense and defense could tear the team asunder.

“I think the biggest thing for us is just staying together,” ILB Jonas Griffith said. “We’re close. But in this business, you can’t really be close. You’ve gotta win. Just staying together is the biggest thing for us.”

It’s simple, but there’s a catch.

“It’s easy to stay together — if you care,” DE Dre’Mont Jones said. “You can stay together if you care.”

***

Plenty of Broncos do care, no doubt.

But there is a breaking point for any team with a similar chasm between performances on both sides of the ball.

It happened to the Broncos in 2017, when the defense, stretched like a rubberband to its limit, finally snapped and allowed 51 points to Philadelphia. The magnificent run of the “No-Fly Zone” effectively ended on that humid, gray South Philly afternoon.

A similar fate could await the Broncos and this exemplary defense if they don’t find a solution to the woes of a highly-paid offense that threaten to sink this team before it ever had a chance to sail.

“We all know what the definition of insanity is,” safety Justin Simmons said. “We can’t keep doing the same thing week in and week out and think things are going to change.”

Simmons was particularly crushed. Before overtime, he gathered teammates and made an impassioned speech.

“I pretty much was saying, ‘We can’t leave here without a win,'” Simmons said.

He paused. He lost his train of thought.

A few moments later, Simmons gathered himself.

“It starts with leadership, from the defensive standpoint, offensive standpoint, special teams,” he said. “Something’s obviously not going right, and we need to find a way to fix it.”

The result was the same Monday.

But one thing did change: Russell Wilson didn’t wrap his press conference with a “Broncos Country, let’s ride.”

Wilson was hurting, too — physically and emotionally. After dealing with a lat-muscle injury, now he has a hamstring problem, incurred in the second half. Los Angeles blitzed frequently and pulverized the 11-year veteran quarterback.

He didn’t expect the season to start as it has — or the night to end as it did, in a flood of three-and-outs and incompletions.

But expectations mean nothing now.

The reality is that the 2022 Broncos are fast devolving into a film on which their disappointed audience may walk out.

***

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In Tinseltown’s shadow, Broncos produce another box-office dud