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Lump of Coal. Broncos humiliated by Rams on Christmas Day

With Hackett needing a win, performance indefensible by Wilson, defense
Broncos Rams Football
Posted at 5:38 PM, Dec 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-25 21:04:31-05

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — An hour before kickoff when hope still lingered on Christmas day, Russell Wilson gathered offensive players around him in the tunnel leading onto the SoFi Stadium field, and kept it brief.

"We have a chance to put on a show today," Wilson said.

Instead, the Broncos showed why networks would rather broadcast Navage nasal infomercials than place Denver in a stand-alone game. In a season defined by a cascade of failures, the Broncos gifted their fans a pathetic performance in the Lump-Of-Coal Bowl against the Los Angeles Rams.

The final score: Rams 51, Broncos 14.

"We got our (butt) kicked," safety Justin Simmons said.

In a season where the search for rock bottom has been a weekly pursuit, the Broncos left no doubt that they have reached their destination, slimed by the Rams on Nickelodeon.

The abyss came in the first half, serving as indictment of coach Nathaniel Hackett, who needed an impressive win to craft a compelling argument to avoid a one-and-done tenure.

"It always starts with me. I am embarrassed. We are embarrassed," Hackett said. "That's not what we are about."

What unfurled on this holiday was indefensible futility, made even more sobering by the play of franchise quarterback Russell Wilson, who appears to be aging in dog years.

The Broncos trailed 31-6, their largest halftime deficit since the 2011 divisional playoffs, while allowing their most points at intermission since 2017. The Broncos were outgained 261-110, with Wilson completing 6 of 13 passes for 90 yards and two interceptions compared to Baker Mayfield's 18-for-20 for 185 yards and two scores.

When they reached 51 points late in the fourth, the Rams had scored every time they touched the ball.

"It's embarrassing. Point. Blank. Period," said nose tackle Mike Purcell.

Hackett said at halftime that improvement started with taking care of the ball. Wilson, sacked six times, promptly threw a pick on the Broncos' initial possession in the third quarter.

"I let the team down," Wilson said.

So bad was the meltdown that left guard Dalton Risner got into a heated exchange with backup quarterback Brett Rypien that required intervention by Hackett.

"It was frustrating time of the game, I didn't really hear what he said. He was coming over, we are both competitors. Five minutes later, we made up. We both want to be great, we are both competitors and want to win the game," Risner said. "I've got nothing but love for him. I told him I was sorry I got so mad. And he said the same thing. We hugged it out. That's the game of football. From my standpoint, you want guys who care. So there should be some people pissed off."

Denver aimed to win its first road game on American soil since Nov. 7, 2021. They played like they would never win another game anywhere. And they did it before the ownership group, which showed out in full force in a family matchup with Rams boss Stan Kroenke.

Before the game Rob Walton, CEO Greg Penner and his wife Carrie Walton-Penner posed for a family picture on the sideline. They have been present and invested this season, making significant changes on the business side while learning the nuances of the football operation in their first stab at pro ownership.

They did not make their money in retail by being generous in the face of ineffectiveness, if not incompetence. Sunday's game did not suggest Hackett should be fired, but rather screamed it hoarse from the top of Long's Peak.

After a 2-1 start, the Broncos have lost 10 of their last 12 games, but none reached this level of ugliness.

Los Angeles gashed the Broncos on the ground in the opening drive with Akers collecting 37 yards on five carries, setting the tone for a beatdown. Los Angeles opened a 3-0 lead with a 55-yard field goal by Matt Gay.

What happened next defied logic even by the Broncos' low standards. On first-and-10, Wilson, making his return from a concussion, fired deep down the left sideline to Courtland Sutton.

It made no sense on multiple levels. Sutton has shown no ability to create separation, and the Rams' rush defense was vulnerable. And it spiraled when Wilson tried to force his second pass to Sutton that Cobie Durant intercepted.

Mayfield, who completed his first 11 passes, delivered a 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Higbee, the first of his two first-half scores.

Just when you thought things couldn't get worse, Wilson pulled up the manhole cover and swan dived into the abyss. On Denver's next drive, Wilson drilled a pass to linebacker Bobby Wagner, his former Seahawks teammate, creating another chapter in Akers' revival story with a 2-yard score (Akers eclipsed 100 yards with 3:49 left in the third quarter).

Trailing 17-0, Wilson gained slight footing, working the ball to Jerry Jeudy as Brandon McManus booted a 54-yard field goal to avoid the indignity of a first-half shutout.

It mattered little as the Rams responded with the "Fast and Curious" offense under Mayfield. The former No. 1 pick, perhaps auditioning for the Jets or a handful of other teams, used the short game to Akers, before drilling a dart to Higbee in front of Damarri Mathis for a touchdown.

Down 24-3, the faceplant was complete, leaving Hackett on borrowed time with two games remaining in the season. Hackett has not shown he can fill the role of head coach, and the worst thing that happened to him was acquiring Wilson when he clearly needed Aaron Rodgers to run this offense. Rodgers was never a sure thing to land in Denver, and Wilson has not fit this scheme other than with a few sporadic improvisations.

How bad was it?

Sunday marked the first time in Wilson's career he has trailed by 20 points in consecutive starts, according to ESPN. Wilson finished 15 for 27 for 214 yards, one touchdown to Greg Dulcich and three turnovers.

There is no way to frame this other than as a complete disaster, one with painful ramifications beyond the coach, because the franchise quarterback looked lost. And he's not going anywhere after this season.

Wilson played like a guy who, under normal circumstances without his $242.5 million contract extension, would be asked to compete for his job in 2023.

The defense has long been the reason for close games, but the elasticity in the rubber band snapped. Beyond Alex Singleton's stats, there was little worth remembering, the game a battery of missed assignments and missed tackles.

"We were undisciplined, including myself," defensive lineman DeShawn Williams said. "To have 51 points put on you, that's embarrassing."

Offensively, the Broncos entered as the league's lowest scoring team — the Rams ranked 31st — and demonstrated why Hackett remains ill-equipped to continue. It's not all his fault, but he was brought in to revive the attack, and Denver is worse. Vance Joseph and Vic Fangio received more grace in the face of failure because they lacked a quarterback.

Because of Wilson, there is no patience afforded Hackett, who has not helped himself by appearing over his skies from the opening night loss in Seattle to Sunday's debacle.

It's important to note that teams can begin talking to head coaching candidates with two games remaining if their own position is vacant. However, the Broncos sent out an email with Hackett's availability Monday at 3:!5 p.m., reinforcing the notion that he will finish out the season and then Denver will move on.

So many Denver games are memorable through the years, but this will be impossible forget as the day the Broncos ruined Christmas.

IR Exhausted after Edmonds Move
With Chase Edmonds activated on Saturday, it ended the season for center Lloyd Cushenberry. The Broncos exhausted their eight player IR activations. Cushenberry injured his groin on Oct. 30 at London. Graham Glasgow has started in his place and looked comfortable before an ugly Sunday, drawing two holding calls in the first quarter. The Broncos could seek to add new starters at left guard, if Dalton Risner is not resigned, center and right tackle. Glasgow has one year remaining on his four year contract with a $3 million dead cap hit if released. It is assumed that the Broncos will look to address some of the their offensive line needs in the draft.

Classy move by the Rams to honor former Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman with a moment of silence before the game. Hillman grew up in Long Beach, Calif., and starred at San Diego State before leading the 2015 Super Bowl champion team in rushing. ...

Randy Gregory was a surprise active player after not practicing with knee soreness all week. Gregory was used as a decoy for the most part. And he drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Rams' third touchdown. After the game, Gregory exchanged words with Rams right guard Oday Aboushi before throwing a punch with Aboushi swinging back before the pair was separated. Gregory said he would talk to the media on Monday, but provided a quick summary of the events, saying he hit the Rams player and he was hit back.