‘Frustration’ is just a symptom; the Broncos were whipped in every way
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — By the time the Broncos drove to a window-dressing touchdown in the late-afternoon shadows Sunday, they had already come apart in a deluge of penalties, mistakes, inept offense and, finally, a shouting match.
The clouds above Bank of America Stadium cleared over the course of the day. The gray skies shrouding the Broncos did not.
And thus, the Broncos left with a seventh defeat in eight games — this one the most comprehensive of them all. This wasn’t a “might-have-been” close game that pivoted on one play or one questionable coaching decision.
This was a flogging. It was not as close as the 23-10 score would indicate. The Broncos dispensed with the facade of building an early lead and went directly to the business of slowly fading, bit by bit, into the oblivion of defeat.
So, perhaps, it was inevitable when the mounting woes boiled over into Mike Purcell shouting at Russell Wilson near the sideline, a moment captured by the FOX network cameras chronicling the game.
“Frustration,” Purcell said.
“Mike and I are on the same page,” Wilson said. “He came off after they kicked the field goal and he was pissed off. He just said, ‘We’ve gotta f’ing go,’ and I agree.”
Let’s talk about what happened for the Broncos today.
I start with the positive. I don’t last long with that.
This was a three-phaser. All three phases culpable in the latest Denver debacle.
As always, postgame thoughts are brought to you by Twin Peaks. pic.twitter.com/rZtepRrWd4
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) November 27, 2022
Look, the reality is that plenty of heated exchanges happen on the sideline — even when things are going well. While it’s a frozen moment, in a vacuum, it’s not the biggest of deals.
Visible frustration is a natural outgrowth of defats piling up to where the season is basically over before December.
“When you put as much you do into it week in and week out and you don’t get the results, it can be frustrating,” safety Justin Simmons said. “So, as frustrated as everyone is watching, you can only imagine how frustrated guys are when they’re the ones trying to put in the work and find ways to football games, and some of that spills over.”
Frankly, tensions boiling over is only a symptom. What ails the Broncos is deeper, and seems to only expand week after week.
Because unlike some other games, Denver could not point to one phase as primarily responsible.
ALL THREE PHASES
To be certain, the offense remains offensive. It had just one touchdown for the third consecutive game and the eighth time this season. It has as many touchdowns in three games since the bye as it did in London. And Sunday, it didn’t even muster 250 yards.
Denver followed up the longest run of the season — a 52-yard Latavius Murray gallop in the second quarter — by turning the ball over two plays later when Wilson was hit and had the ball knocked loose just before he moved his arm forward.
And once again, the Broncos didn’t score a point in the third quarter. That was an issue to which Wilson pointed at his press conference Wednesday.
But by Sunday afternoon, he was thinking about all of it.
“We’ve gotta be better every quarter. It’s not just the third quarter. We’ve gotta be better every quarter,” Wilson said. ” From here on out, that’s gotta be our mentality — first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter. There are so many moments in there, and we’ve gotta capitalize on those moments.”
And it’s not just the offense that has to be better.
Carolina gashed the Broncos for 185 yards — much of it coming against full boxes designed to stop the run first. The Panthers diced up the Broncos from the inside out. As the inside runs worked, Carolina built on that to slice the Broncos with play-action passes downfield.
Denver has allowed an average of 136.6 rushing yards per game since Week 4. Takeaways remain scarce; the Broncos’ only forced turnover came on a muffed punt.
And, oh, the special teams. A muffed punt and a recovered on-side kick were the highlights. But Jalen Virgil fumbled a kickoff return, Purcell had a personal-foul penalty out of what he termed “frustration” after a Panthers field goal and one punt return came back because of two penalties.
Aside from a 6.4-yards-per-carry average on the ground, Denver could point to almost nothing and say, “That went well.”
Coaching matters, and Nathaniel Hackett remains under scrutiny. But at some point, the on-field execution must be there. For too many moments Sunday and throughout the season, it wasn’t.
LET’S BE REAL HERE
It’s time to sever all ties with preseason expectations. They don’t matter any longer.
First, the Broncos are 4-13 in their last season’s worth of games, dating back to the start of last December.
This isn’t just a 3-game losing streak here. This is a sustained period of lousy results with three different starting quarterbacks. Three of their four wins were over Detroit — which was on its way to a 3-13-1 season — and Jacksonville and Houston, which are 4-7 and 1-9-1, respectively.
Denver is 1-4 against teams that came into Week 12 at .500 or better … and 2-4 against those currently with losing records. So, it’s not as though the Broncos can make hay against the cellar-dwellers, either.
At 3-8, Denver’s postseason hopes are effectively done. All that remains is trying to improve, learning more about young players and evaluating the character and core of the team.
“We’ve still gotta come in and do our job every single day,” Josey Jewell said, “and if you’re not going to come in and do your job, then you probably shouldn’t be here.
“It’s a good time to determine who wants to be here and who doesn’t, and show who’s tough.”
From the dizzying days of lofty expectations to the reality of using the next six games to figure out who’s going to be a part of the solution in the years to come.
It’s been a long fall for the Broncos, and it could be an even longer winter.