ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In professional sports, there are those who have been humbled and those who are about to be.
For all that went right during the Broncos’ five game winning streak – halting the madness vs. the Chiefs, snapping the Monday Night Football skid, restoring joy to fans – it masked a salient point. Denver was on an unsustainable heater because it was built on producing three takeaways and never giving the ball away.
Once the faucet turned off, the offense has failed to do the heavy lifting. All seven of Denver’s wins have come when it has won the turnover battle. Without a plethora of gifts from Sunday’s opponent, the Broncos fell flat vs the Pats, unable to take advantage of prime first quarter field position or mount any attack in the third quarter.
“Yeah, I think so many times when we look at some of the stuff it’s self-inflicted problems. That’s communication. Is there too much in?” said coach Sean Payton Tuesday on the offensive inconsistency, which included minus 15 yards in the third quarter. “Right now, we are average to below average in a lot of categories, and it’s not good enough.”
The Broncos are not doing anything particularly well. They run OK, their scoring (21.8) ranks in the middle of the pack, and their passing yards and attempt fall near the bottom (25th and 28th) with no intermediate strikes in the middle of the field or rhythm from the pocket. Quarterback Russell Wilson sits sixth in scoring throws (26), a testament to his red zone prowess, and ability to make plays off script. The Broncos experienced success with an up-tempo attack in the fourth quarter vs. the Patriots, erasing a 16-point deficit, but Payton views that more as a change of pace.
“It was more spontaneous. It was more spread-empty (backfield). We weren’t in hurry-up, but we were certainly up-tempo,” Payton said. “But it’s hard to say you’re going to make a living that way as your base offense.”
The aggregate of stats – the team has no receiver or running back on pace for 1,000 yards – explain why Denver operates with little margin for error. What made the Patriots loss devastating is that the Broncos had three short fields in the first quarter, but produced only seven points. And then they got sloppy.
“We were protecting the ball better (during the winning streak). It’s out all the time now. We are lucky we only had two turnovers (after fumbling four times),” Payton said.
Over the past four games, Wilson has six touchdowns, four interceptions and one lost fumble. Denver is minus-4 in turnover margin during its 1-3 stretch and minus-5 in the defeats. And it’s uncertain whether top receiver Courtland Sutton will play this week after logging nine snaps vs. the Patriots before entering the concussion protocol.
Turnover Margin over Last 4 Games
Vs. Houston Broncos 3, Texans 0
Vs. Chargers Broncos 1, Chargers 2
Vs. Lions Broncos 1, Lions 0
Vs. Patriots Broncos 2, Patriots 1
The Broncos have not shown they overcome giveaways. And it does not matter if it is on the road or home. Denver was seeking its fifth straight home victory for the first time since 2014, but now is left to lament how it squandered home halftime leads to the Raiders, Commanders, Jets and Pats. It has left their playoff probability at 16% even if they post victories in their last two games, which would result in the franchise's first winning season since 2016.
“The message this week will be we have to win this game, our last home game. We haven’t played well enough at home for Broncos fans. Our message, it’s going to be short-sighted,” Payton said. “The ongoing step is learning how not to lose games before you learn how to win. We are still learning that the hard way.”