CARSON, Calif. — Don’t look now but the Denver Broncos have used up virtually every ounce of goodwill, quality mojo and any momentum they had just a few short weeks ago.
After Sunday’s 21-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, the Broncos are officially a 3-3 team in season-changing trouble that had a 25-year-old scoring streak snapped in a soccer stadium. Their offense hasn’t really been seen since an everybody-feels-good Week 2 win over the Dallas Cowboys. Their special teams are a growing detriment and the running game has been largely ornamental in two consecutive losses.
Toss in the fact quarterback Trevor Siemian is both skittish and battered at times behind an offensive line that has struggled to hold its ground against even four-man rushes on key downs and the Broncos have the recipe for one gargantuan migraine for coach Vance Joseph that even its own elite defense won’t cure.
Sunday, Broncos tight end A.J. Derby fumbled in the Broncos’ first possession and punter Riley Dixon put a low-slung effort down the middle of the field in his first punt of the game that Travis Benjamin returned 65 yards for a touchdown. That was just in the first seven minutes of the game.
And you know you’re not the team you hope you are at the moment, when even when it’s good, it goes bad. Derby’s fumble came after a 23-yard gain, Benjamin’s return came after the Broncos defense had constructed a remarkable goal-line stand – the Chargers had first-and-goal at the 1-yard line and failed to score on four consecutive Melvin Gordon runs – and Demaryius Thomas’ 80-yard reception in the third quarter was negated by a pass interference call, on Thomas, in what was still a two-score game.
Even in a game when Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy came into the afternoon’s work with a rather extensive knowledge of the Chargers’ personnel given he was the Chargers’ coach when most of the players were acquired, the Broncos continue to be stuck in something well below neutral. They’ve been outscored 31-3 in the first half of the last two games combined and haven’t had nearly enough pop to overcome that.
It’s on the quarterback, but he’s got plenty of company because it’s on the guys blocking for the quarterback, the guys fumbling the ball and the guys making the plan. Essentially, the Broncos are in the doldrums so deep even one of the league’s elite defenses can’t erase everything. The Broncos defense has surrendered one substantial touchdown drive when each of the last two games were still in question and that has had the look of insurmountable with what the Broncos have done — or not done — when they have the ball.
The Broncos are now 2-of-12 in the red zone over the last four games and number that isn’t worse simply because the Broncos only ventured inside the Chargers’ 20-yard line once.
The Broncos had a player whose been splitting time at guard start at right tackle in Allen Barbre to go with Garett Bolles at left tackle and Bolles had a particularly difficult ride on the learning curve as defenses have increasingly singled out the rookie in pass protection — at one point Sunday Melvin Ingram simply shoved Bolles into Siemian for a sack. As a result Ingram and Joey Bosa combined for three sacks and it would have been four had Ingram not been flagged for a personal foul when he came clean through the middle of the formation on a hit on Siemian in the first half.
Siemian threw his seventh interception of the season – a play that infuriated the quarterback enough that he was shouting to no one in particular as he went to the bench – Thomas still doesn’t have a touchdown catch six games into the season, Emmanuel Sanders will miss more games with an ankle injury and their rout of the Cowboys seems like a loooong time ago.
Almost as long ago as when the Broncos were last shut out – in November of 1992, a streak of 394 consecutive games with points snapped in a soccer stadium that’s seen its share of nil-nil draws. Oh, and the Broncos’ next two games are in Kansas City and in Philadelphia.
The record may say 3-3, but make no mistake the season is in the balance.