No horsepower: Broncos lose ugly overtime game against Colts in primetime

Broncos fans stunned after team falls to 2-3
APTOPIX Colts Broncos Football
Posted at 8:26 AM, Oct 07, 2022

DENVER — Even without a confession, the evidence of guilt continues to grow. The Broncos are not a good offense, demonstrated for three hours on a postcard perfect Thursday night at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium.

There were 71,702 witnesses to the latest sludge through the mud, leaving them in a less than sunny disposition, unless you believe they were screaming "Boone!" instead of "Boo!"

Over the last six seasons of 12 different starting quarterbacks, there have been few games this ugly. The Broncos offense makes passing a kidney stone look easier than passing the football, undermined by a porous offensive line, missed assignments and a star quarterback who looks mismatched in a timing offense under a coach who looks uncomfortable calling plays.

They lost 12-9 in overtime, a defeat that will not hang in the Louvre, but rather linger in the air as an odor that will be hard to shake without significant improvement.

"Throwing two interceptions can't happen. I let the team down," said Russell Wilson, who finished 21 of 39 for 274 yards. "The good thing I know about myself is I'll respond. I don't know any other way."

The Broncos own a 2-3 record because of their rancid offense. It's that simple. Their defense is special. That's not the worst thing because a strong defense resonates in the postseason. But you have to get there — and winning without a threat of scoring 20 points is not sustainable. The idea of the playoffs seems comical — like a Jim Mora gif — at this juncture.

After the Colts took their first lead at 12-9 in the extra period, the Broncos' offense awoke from hibernation. Big pass plays to Melvin Gordon and Jerry Jeudy left Denver in the red zone. They faced fourth-and-1 from the 5-yard line with 2:38 remaining. It felt like their season was teetering the balance. They called two timeouts.

For reasons that defy logic, they went shotgun, and Wilson threw incomplete to Courtland Sutton in tight coverage as K.J. Hamler was wide open on a slant on the right side. Hamler slammed his helmet in disgust, and lamented after that he would have walked into the end zone untouched.

It was that kind of night for Wilson.

"We wanted to win the game. We hadn't moved the ball all night. We put the decision in Russell's hands, a play he liked, and it didn't work out," Hackett said. "The run didn't look as good as we hoped."

Wilson threw head-shaking picks that cost the Broncos six potential points. Teammates had his back like he has had theirs. It was fair to wonder if his right shoulder injury bothered him more than he let on given how poorly he played, pressing and making unwise decisions.

With 14:20 remaining, he jeopardized the outcome with panic. Then it happened again on the last drive in the fourth quarter. With the Broncos in field goal range for a 53-yarder, Wilson lobbed a deep ball to Hamler, who wasn't in the same area code as the pass' trajectory. It was an easy interception, with Wilson taking an elbow the jaw from Zaire Franklin on the return.

The Broncos tried to salvage pride with a long drive to drain the clock in the fourth quarter, showcasing good runs from Gordon and Mike Boone. But Wilson inexplicably threw a pick in the end zone on a pass intended for Tyrie Cleveland when the Colts were out of timeouts.

It made no sense. Just run on third-and-4 from the 13-yard line. Take the field goal, inflate the cushion to six points and challenge the Colts to drive the field for their first touchdown of the night. There was no reason to think they could do it. This decision conjured memories of the 64-yard field goal attempt in the opening night loss to Seattle.

Coach Hackett has spent the past three months saying this team is making progress, that the group hasn't "played its best game."

Denver still hasn't. This might have been their worst.

It took a defensive stand on third down inside the 10 by the Broncos to force the Colts to settle for a tie in regulation.

This game brought a reminder of why Thursday night football requires an iron stomach and plenty of mouthwash. The offenses were the equivalent of two drunks fighting outside a bar. Matt Ryan looks like he retired last season and didn't tell anyone. His interceptions kept the Broncos confident — both picks came from safety Caden Sterns — believing they could win because the Colts' offense was so putrid. The Broncos sacked Ryan six times.

Ryan has 10 fumbles and seven interceptions this season. He added to the total Thursday. And the Colts still won.

The Broncos could barely capitalize. Denver went 0-for-3 in the red zone, unable to find traction because the running attack remained a rumor. If it were just that, it would be easier to reconcile. But there were penalties, drops and missed assignments that were supposed to shrink as we entered October..

Worse, the rash of injuries continued to spread. Dre'Mont Jones (head injury), Baron Browning (wrist), Ronald Darby (knee), Josey Jewell (knee) and Garett Bolles (broken leg, out indefinitely) all were hurt with Jewell and Bolles facing absences.

The game felt in control. However, the Broncos flirted with trouble in the third quarter when the Colts' Chase McLaughlin hit a 51-yarder to tie the game at 6.

Brandon McManus then had a 34-yard field goal blocked with 4:35 remaining in the third. Unlike the bad snap in Las Vegas on a botched extra point, this kick came out low. It was fitting on a night when primetime viewers felt like this game belong on black and white TV with leather helmets.

Early on, it looked like things might be different.

The Broncos showed urgency with their offensive strategy. On their first drive, they used a hurry-up offense that produced a third down conversion from Jerry Jeudy and an 18-yard scramble from Wilson. However, the red light zone continues. Denver ranks last in touchdown percentage, and settled for a 33-yard McManus field goal, securing a 3-0 lead that held after an underwhelming first quarter. The Broncos posted minus-4 yards in their second drive, reminding of why they lead in third-and-longs this season (third-and-7 or more).

The Colts were worse, looking like chum in the water for the Broncos' creative defense. Their opening period drives: 3 plays, 8 yards, punt; 4 plays, 24 yards punt; 3 plays, 1 yard, punt; 3 plays, -11 yards, punt.

Even when the Broncos' offense received the football equivalent of a B12 injection, they could not get out of their own way. Ryan committed his ninth turnover, firing an interception to Sterns. His return set the Broncos up at the 38 yard line and the drive fizzled after a holding penalty on tight end Andrew Beck.

In the end, the Broncos did not do enough to win. And it's fair to wonder when it will change.

"It's very simple: At the end of the day, I've got to be better, I've got to play better," Wilson said. "The defense played their butts off and I let the team down tonight."

The Broncos' cluster of injuries continued. Starting left tackle Garett Bolles suffered a broken right leg and will miss significant time. Also, there is concern about Josey Jewell's knee injury. Other players hurt said they were OK after the game, including Baron Browning (wrist), Dre'Mont Jones (head injury) and Ronald Darby (knee). ...

Receiver Kendall Hinton has maxed out his three practice squad elevations, but was not called up for Thursday's game. Tyrie Cleveland was active after missing a few weeks with a hamstring injury. Safety Anthony Harris and running back Devine Ozigno were elevated from practice squad. And outside linebacker Jonathan Kongbo was promoted to the the active roster. ...

Broncos running back Javonte Williams tore his ACL and LCL, but did not suffer nerve damage, per sources. That is good news for a more traditional recovery. ...

Nose tackle D.J. Jones delivered his second sack in as many games. ...

Right tackle Billy Turner was active for the first time, but did not play. Calvin Anderson and Turner could be used at left tackle in Bolles' absence ...

The were 4,965 no-shows among those who paid for tickets on Thursday. ...

Rookie outside linebacker Nik Bonitto came into the game on the Colts' first third-down attempt and produced pressure and a tackle across the field. ...

Running back Latavius Murray, signed Tuesday, hoped to be active Thursday despite playing in London on Sunday. The Broncos view him as part of a longer-term solution, and kept him out to get him ready for the Chargers.