SAN DIEGO, Calif -- The Broncos arrived in San Diego determined to forget about last Sunday. There’s no reason to burn this game into memory. It will be torched from all recognition if the video staff knows what’s best.
The feel-good moment of winning an important division game for their absent head coach dissolved into soot. The Broncos lost their first AFC West roadie since 2010, falling 21-13 in a game made only respectable by a fourth-quarter flourish.
It could provide only cover-up when plastic surgery was needed to recover from the ugly first 45 minutes. The last time Denver lost a divisional road game was Tim Tebow’s first start in 2010 at Oakland. The streak spanned 15 games. The Chargers hadn’t won any AFC West game anywhere in 10 tries.
#Broncos Joe DeCamillis on how went without Kubiak "not well. We lost. I am sick to my stomach. I hate losing.Wasn't his damn fault we lost"
— Troy Renck (@TroyRenck) October 14, 2016
This was a mess. By any measure.
Talking with multiple sources, and all said coach Gary Kubiak is recovering well from his complex migraine, and prepared to return to his job on Monday. He will have work to do for a team that has dropped two straight games for the first time since last December. After the second loss in Pittsburgh, which placed the postseason in jeopardy, Kubiak rallied the club with a passionate locker room speech. Denver rode it to a Super Bowl 50 win.
For history to repeat itself, the Broncos must stop repeating mistakes.
The issues began at the start. The offense proved ineffective and defense stood with hands on knees, panting from a staggering play count. For Kubiak’s health, you can only hope his cable went out.
The Chargers held a 10-3 lead at half, which only hinted of their domination. The Broncos’ offense totaled 60 yards and two first downs. The defense was on the field for nearly 21 minutes. At one point early in the third quarter Denver had more punts (four), than points or first downs. They were shut out in third, where they own an NFL-worst six points.
A last gasp to restore pride, if not provide a glimmer of hope came after a safety on quarterback Trevor Siemian because of holding in the end zone. A pop-up kick worked to perfection as the Broncos recovered at midfield. They put together a scoring drive, providing reason not to turn channel for a few more minutes. Siemian, who looked out of sync in completing 29 of 47 passes for 221 yards, connected with Bennie Fowler on a touchdown. It delayed what had been obvious since the first drive, the loss sealed when Demaryius Thomas fumbled late in the fourth.
It continues to become more difficult to finish when the Broncos don’t begin correctly. The Broncos defense deserves its reputation for having fangs. But dentures were exposed on first drives thus far. Opponents boast 31 points on opening possessions, which explains why the Broncos rank second worst with 41 first quarter points allowed.
Atlanta offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan continued to haunt the Broncos. San Diego coach Mike McCoy, who spent part of pregame running stadium stairs, followed the Falcons’ script as if dance steps. He removed the Broncos’ best players, muting the No Fly Zone by not invading the defensive backs’ space. McCoy isolated tight ends on linebackers, running routes used by Falcons backs Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman. Rookie Hunter Henry blossomed, catching two passes for 32 yards and a 5-yard touchdown in front of an outstretched Chris Harris Jr. on the first drive.
Siemian rehabbed countless hours a day to play. He didn’t know only three quarters required. With 10:35 remaining until half, the Broncos had run five plays. The Chargers owned 30 plays for 150 yards, gorging 18 minutes, three seconds off the clock. Josh Lambo’s 37-yard field goal after a Von Miller sack shoved Chargers ahead 10-0. Their second drive seemed to last longer than the last day of school. It was first in NFL this season of more than 10 minutes.
Broncos receive break. With Kayvon Webster staring him down, Travis Benjamin pulled hands back, but Riley Dixon’s punt bounced off his right calf. Interim coach Joe DeCamillis successfully challenged call. Denver took over at the 7-yard-line and did nothing. No, really. They gained zero yards on three plays before Brandon McManus salvaged the possession with a 37-yard field goal.
How bad was first half? C.J. Anderson burst for 12 yards with under a minute left, and it was called back on left guard Max Garcia’s holding. The first half ended mercifully with Broncos trailing 10-3.
Every offensive linemen received a penalty. The Broncos failed to move the ball on the ground, save for a spark from Devontae Booker. The defense struggled to get off the field. Brandon McManus missed his second field goal from at least 50 yards. He missed two all of last year.
Viewed individually, the statistics can be reconciled. Viewed collectively, they paint a picture of why it’s so difficult to claim back-to-back titles, and that was before they lost their coach. The Broncos wanted to remember this as a night they won for their coach. Instead, it was a game to forget in a season that has reached a crossroads.
Von stays hot
Von Miller began warm-ups listening to Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop 'Til You Get Enough.” He continued devouring quarterbacks. With second quarter hustle, he pushed Philip Rivers out of bounds for a sack. It extended his career-high of seven straight games with a take down. He sits three games shy of Simon Fletcher’s franchise record set over the 1992-93 seasons
Devontae Booker continues to push for more playing time. After a quiet end of training camp and a fumble on his first NFL carry, the rookie is gaining speed. He provided a spark on Broncos’ final third quarter drive. He rushed for 33 yards, more than team had at that point. And caught two passes. C.J. Anderson has not been able to get on track since scoring two touchdowns in the season opener, and is danger of losing snaps.
Receiver Cody Latimer exited in the second quarter with a concussion after having his helmet knocked off on a kick return. Latimer suffered a concussion during his rookie season.
Offensive issues crushing Broncos early in games. Have scored one first-quarter touchdown this season and 13 total points, second worst in the NFL to Kansas City (10) and Arizona (zero).
The Broncos lost two straight for the first time since last December when they dropped games to Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers. After the Steelers game, the Broncos won five straight, including Super Bowl 50.
As expected right tackle Donald Stephenson and tight end Virgil Green returned to the starting lineup. What was not anticipated is that the offense would perform worse. Green was a non-factor, and Stephenson drew two penalties for moving before the snap and a personal foul after Jordan Taylor’s lost fumble.
The inactive list featured two mild surprised. Right tackle Ty Sambrailo, who graded out as the worst player at his position last week by Pro Football Focus, didn’t dress. Neither did tight end Jeff Heuerman with the return of Green.
Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders hurt his hip in the fourth quarter, but returned.