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Broncos offense fizzles in road loss to Chargers

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Posted at 5:11 PM, Oct 22, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-22 21:13:10-04

CARSON, Calif. -- Even before the Broncos wandered clumsily to Hollywood, everyone knew sequels were unwatchable. 

This is last season all over again. Burning retinas can provide witness. 

The Broncos fell 21-0 to the Los Angeles Chargers, a numbing defeat that left more questions than solutions in its wake. 

"Absolutely," slumping quarterback Trevor Siemian said when asked if he agreed with the "embarrassing" assessment of the loss by multiple teammates. "We have to figure it out."

You can't blame the venue. StubHub Center operates like a boutique hotel, wonderfully intimate, yet passed through the Kinko's copy machine at 50 percent. The sellout crowd of 25,388 numbered more than half Broncos' fans, orange splashes in every line of sight. In other words, this was a road game in name only.

You can't blame the weather. It was 90 degrees at kickoff. Sunshine lends itself to ball security. The Broncos turned the ball over twice before intermission, and in a play that felt like the last gasp, were intercepted on fourth down with 12:35 remaining.

You can't blame the schedule. The Broncos had a heavy dose of home games to provide a margin for error. 

The sobering reality for the Broncos? The mirror: Maybe they are not good enough offensively, an issue that includes quarterback Trevor Siemian, but extends well beyond him after the Broncos were shut out for the first time since 1992, ending the second longest streak in NFL history at 394 games. 

Is it time for a change under center?

"He's our quarterback," explained coach Vance Joseph, who insisted he did not consider benching Siemian. "It was a two score game for most of the game so why make a change when we are still in the game? We had some good plays called. We missed some. Again we had three turnovers, which is way too many. It wasn't simply on Trevor. I felt until five minutes to go it was a game we could have won."

The conversation about whether to bench Siemian is now fair, if uncomfortable at this point in the season.  Dating to the Oakland Raiders game, the Broncos have produced one touchdown in their last 34 possessions. 

"We have too much talent for this," said running back Jamaal Charles, who finished with two yards rushing and 20 yards on four receptions. "We have to get back to work."

The Broncos talked last week about delivering a counterpunch, showing fight fit for the silver screen or the octagon. Good teams play well after bad games and it would have been difficult for the Broncos to fare worse against the New York Giants.

Sunday created a platform for redemption. Instead, it revealed an ugly pattern. The Broncos were outscored 14-0 in the first half, 31-3 counting last week. It left a scrappy defense with no elasticity after holding the Chargers without a first down in seven of their first nine possessions. The rubber band snapped in the fourth quarter on Travis Benjamin's 42-yard touchdown reception, shoving the Chargers ahead 21-0 with 5:51 left.

"We have to look in the mirror in all aspects of the game," outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett said. "It is a hard loss to swallow."

The defense played well enough to win. The Broncos held the Chargers to 14 first downs, and 242 yards of total offense. Under similar circumstances last season, the defense began pointing fingers at the offense for not carrying its weight. It is different this year, the players insisted. And Von Miller explained, the defense can do more.

"We have to get turnovers," said Miller, whose Broncos have yet to recover a fumble and rank near the bottom with four takeaways. "The problem is a tough problem to solve. There are so many ways to get them and we aren't getting any of them. We have to give our offense a short field. We have playmakers to do it. I have to step up and make and more plays."

A moment arrived early Sunday suggesting this day would be deodorant to last week's odiferous outing. It proved a polite interruption. Duct tape on the mangled bumper of the Family Truckster, if you will. 

A first quarter goal-line stand brought the crowd to full throat and the players popping off the bench like an army of Jack-In-The-Boxes. The Chargers stood 1-yard from the end zone. Denver took it personally, stopping Melvin Gordon on four consecutive attempts. On his final slither into the bottom of the pile Gordon found himself twisted and turned like a pretzel, lost in the arms of Todd Davis, Derek Wolfe, Will Parks and Brandon Marshall.

Davis, who injured his right ankle in the second half on a chop block by Russell Okung, reacted with swagger, pumping his arms into the air. This should have served as a catalyst.

Nope.

The Broncos punted and Benjamin raced 65 yards for a touchdown. Injuries compromised the Broncos special teams following the loss of linebacker Corey Nelson (torn biceps tendon), but the burst continued a troubling trend. Denver's special teams remain an eyesore. As bad as the coverage was -- linebacker Kasim Edebali guessed wrong and got caught flat-footed -- Riley Dixon's line drive punt exacerbated the problem. 

"It can't happen," Joseph said of the punt return. "And the punt was terrible."

Without context, it would be easy to dismiss as a single mistake. But I would humbly ask: Have you seen the offense? The Broncos are averaging 10.5 points over the last four contests, and have no identity or pop when unable to run the ball. 

While the running backs make an easy target, the Broncos continue to have issues upfront. Allen Barbre was out of sync at right tackle, and there was no dependable running path. 

Even Siemian's best completions proved hollow. A.J. Derby caught a 25-yard throw down the sideline on the first drive, making a nice adjustment, before fumbling. In the third quarter, Demaryius Thomas hauled in an 81-yard pass. It was only a tease, as officials called Thomas for offensive pass interference. He let them have it after the drive, in utter disbelief over the flag. 

"I was upset bad because I didn't think it was interference. The refs have to do their job. If they thought it was I have to move on and make the next play," said Thomas, who had two catches for nine yards. "The first couple of weeks nobody asked us these questions about what we need to do to get it going. We have to do the same thing we did at the beginning of the season and we will be all right."

Under extreme pressure, Siemian, who is 3-6 on the road in his career, struggled to gain traction. He was inaccurate, skittish and unable to create a spark. He finished 25 of 35 for 207 yards. He was sacked five times, and turned the ball over twice on a fumble and interception. He is now 3-8 as a starter when the Broncos throw at least 35 times. On fourth down in the fourth quarter, Siemian moved to his right, flushed out by the relentless Joey Bosa and tossed an interception. The scoreboard insisted the game continue, but it felt over. 

A Siemian long scramble early in the second quarter disappeared because of a Garett Bolles holding penalty, symbolic of a poor outing. 

New offensive coordinator Mike McCoy promised an "exciting, dynamic" attack this season. Denver has fewer touchdowns (three) over the last four games than the Cleveland Browns (five). Discouraging and anemic is a more apt description. 

The Broncos sit at 3-3 with road games looming at first-place Kansas City and Philadelphia. Questions cover this team. Mediocrity was not the plan when training camp began. But without a caffeinated offense, average, truthfully, seems ambitious. 

"It was embarrassing," Charles said. "We know we have to play better."

Footnotes

Broncos' Von Miller has a sack in five consecutive games, marking his seventh streak of that length. ... Denver has not won in Los Angeles since Nov. 22, 1987.