CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Thirteen hours later, the pain gnawed at his gut. Interim coach Joe DeCamillis exited Qualcomm Stadium sick to his stomach Thursday night, and remained disappointed after dissecting the film.
The Broncos struggled across the board, few players innocent from blame after a 21-13 drubbing by San Diego. The Broncos have lost consecutive games and two impressive streaks over the past six days.
Gone is their nine-game winning stretch dating to last season. Poof went their 15-game win streak in AFC West road games. So too absent is their hold on first place. The Broncos left their latest defeat relatively healthy.
Left tackle Russell Okung, who traveled separately from the team after being taken to the hospital after the game, remains in the concussion protocol along with receiver Cody Latimer. Okung tweeted Thursday night, "Thank you everyone for your thoughts and prayers! All good!" And despite painful grimaces after getting hit in the fourth quarter, Trevor Siemian's left shoulder remained OK, relatively speaking.
The Broncos sit at 4-2 with players off until Monday.
The date represents a crossroads for the season. Coach Gary Kubiak will return after a prescribed week-long rest for a complex migraine condition. He will find a talented team searching for answers for early-game defense struggles and an offense seeking an identity. It also marks the date for outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware to receive a checkup on his broken right forearm. If healed, Ware hopes to play against the Houston Texans on Oct. 24, his leadership a potential rudder for a team looking to find its way.
A 4-2 start is no reason to panic. But it's how the Broncos have reached this point that is increasing concern. A look at five things that require fixing for Denver to get back on track:
1) Can anyone get going on the ground?
It looks like the other team knows when the Broncos are running the ball. C.J. Anderson's best carries last night went for no gain or lost yardage as he dodged multiple defenders behind the line of scrimmage. Opponents aren't respecting the play action, leaving the Broncos outmatched at the point of attack. That said, there are no excuses for how the line played. The grunts drew eight flags. Every offensive lineman was called for a penalty, and Okung cost the Broncos points with his holding call on a safety and an infraction on Anderson's fourth quarter touchdown. There's no magic pill to solve the O-line issues. Right tackle Donald Stephenson returned and struggled, looking rusty. The line needs cohesion. Perhaps rest and a long week of practice will provide the necessary jolt.
2) Does Booker deserve more carries?
Denver began the season averaging 141 yards over the first two games. The Broncos have averaged 77 yards over the last four. Rookie Devontae Booker offered hope in Thursday's loss, ripping off 33 yards on back-to-back attempts. He looks quicker than Anderson, needing less of a hole to get yardage. It reminds me of when Ronnie Hillman took over last year with the line struggling. As the line improved, Anderson regained traction. Anderson is terrific in yards after contact, but he needs to get a head of steam. His strength is not dodging defenders in the backfield. Though in fairness, his numbers would have looked much better Thursday if three of his best plays weren't erased because of penalties.
3) Why can't Broncos stop anyone on first drive?
Of all the perplexing stats this season, perhaps none is as odd as this: Denver has allowed 31 points on opening possessions. And Tampa Bay scored a touchdown on its second drive. The Broncos have permitted 41 first-quarter points, second worst in the NFL to the Cleveland Browns. Last season, Denver owned the first quarter defensively. Through the first six games last season, the Broncos had not surrendered a point in the first quarter. Zero. Zilch. None.
The scripted plays against the Broncos defense continue to haunt them. Don't confuse this point. It's not the defense's fault Denver has lost two straight. But it's not helping a fizzling offense by starting every game down 7-0, leaving opponents frothing and encouraged. And remember, it's not like the Broncos come out of halftime blazing. They have scored six points in the third quarter in six games.
4) What's up with Demaryius Thomas?
Thomas showed up to camp lighter, faster and eager to distance himself from last season's drops. He's catching the ball better. Now, he's having trouble holding onto it. He fumbled for the second time last night, all but eliminating a miraculous comeback. Thomas has been targeted 17 times over the past two games and has 84 yards on 10 catches. This isn't all on his doorstep. But as the offense sputters -- Denver has scored 13 first quarter points this season -- it requires players to scribble outside the lines and make plays. The Broncos need more from Thomas. As it stands, opponents don't respect vertical routes. According to Pro Football Focus, Siemian went 1-for-9 on passes of at least 10 yards. It explains why it took 50 attempts to reach 230 yards on Thursday. That's not a recipe for success.
5) Will the leadership strengthen in adversity?
Last season the Broncos' strength, perhaps their greatest one, centered on unity. The team played for the guy next to them, for something bigger than the individual. When losing surfaces, selfishness can follow. At this point last season, the Broncos' resolve grew stronger, the locker room became tighter. The Broncos need to figure out who they are and where they want to go. All of their goals remain within reach, but not with marked improvement.
Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and TheDenverChannel.com’s Broncos page. Troy welcomes most of your emails at Troy.Renck@kmgh.com.