ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs make opponents look flawed. Offensively, they possessed a mismatch Sunday on every play with anyone not guarded by Chris Harris Jr.
Upsetting them demands perfection. That is not the Broncos. Not this season.
Denver competed, then watched MVP frontrunner Patrick Mahomes guide five straight scoring drives. Offensively, the Broncos ran well enough to win -- 189 yards -- but submarined themselves with a flurry of flags.
It also might have marked the last game for the longest-tenured Bronco, Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos are listening to trade offers. They would prefer a third-round pick for the veteran -- I think a fourth is more realistic. Thomas' exit would create playing time for rookie Courtland Sutton and free salary cap space for next season when Thomas would likely not return. The Patriots, Eagles, Texans and Colts are looking to add a wideout. Thomas estimated his chances of being dealt at "50-50," a fair guess after Denver's latest defeat.
In the end, the Broncos lost a game they were not supposed to win. The script flips this Sunday. They are favored against the Texans, despite Houston's five-game winning streak. Lose at home entering the bye week, and coach Vance Joseph's status, if not that of a few coaches, will come under intense scrutiny.
"We are a 3-5 football team. That's who we are. I am a 3-5 coach," Joseph said. "We have to be better."
My Denver7 takeaways from the loss, The Broncos' 10th in 12 road games under Joseph:
The Broncos insist the refs missed some calls, and made others that were ridiculous. No argument. The problem with this logic? This is who the Broncos are. They have been penalized 65 times, 56 of which have been accepted, seventh most in the NFL. Denver no longer has Peyton Manning to camouflage more mistakes than Clinique. They must play a cleaner game to win. No excuses.
The Broncos continue to move the pile in the run game. However, their pass blocking remains a mess. Every Broncos offensive lineman was penalized, save for right tackle Billy Turner, who allowed two sacks. The return of right tackle Jared Veldheer this week -- at least that's the plan -- could help stabilize the group. Yet Garett Bolles' lack of development remains a concern. He has been penalized six times this season, fifth-most in the NFL. Joseph admitted Bolles might need a "rest."
On secondary thought
The Broncos hoped cornerback Adam Jones would provide a lift in the secondary. He played zero snaps. Tramaine Brock was OK, but the Broncos needed terrific from him. Had he been better this season, it would have freed Harris to play more outside, making a greater impact.
On his Case
Quarterback Case Keenum led his most impressive drive as a Bronco to end the first half. He gave the Broncos hope, so what gives? As the Broncos have dropped five of their last six games, Keenum has too often compiled stats when the outcome was decided. He has yet to play a complete game. This is a problem. The Broncos signed him to produce wins, not fantasy league stats. His line is doing him no favors with 22 sacks allowed. Still, he must stop holding onto the ball so long in the pocket. He looked terrific in play action and on bootlegs. Do more of that. Please.
Run for it
The Broncos have found their offensive identity. In a pass-drunk league, they are a running team. They rank first in yards per carry (5.3) and seventh in yards per game (133.1). Phillip Lindsay boasts an impressive resume -- he leads all rookies in rushing yards -- playing with relentless drive and energy. And Devontae Booker showed burst (nine carries, 78 yards) not seen since his days at Utah.
Isn't that special?
The Broncos special teams are better. Sunday, they were ordinary. Colby Wadman delivered a 22-yard punt, believing the play had been blown dead. Brandon McManus missed his first field goal, and a popup kickoff backfired. Again, the Broncos have no margin for error on the road in general and against good teams specifically.
The Broncos match up well against the Chiefs, losing twice by a total of 10 points. The Chiefs have a better roster. They also made adjustments the Broncos failed to counter. Denver played too much zone coverage in the red zone, and the jet sweep third down call cost them control of the game. I like creativity. But running Emmanuel Sanders laterally seemed unnecessary given how well Lindsay was crashing between the tackles. And Joseph's clock management in the final minutes deserves scrutiny.
There is no shame in falling to the Chiefs. It matters because of the lopsided loss against the Jets. Now, the Broncos face the Texans needing a victory to keep their postseason hopes from fading to black.