It felt like there was a puncher’s chance the Denver Broncos would win a game they had no business doing so with less than 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday.
The Denver offense had just taken advantage of an especially short field courtesy of the Broncos’ defense and a Titans’ 15-yard penalty. Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian finally put Denver on the board with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders. Denver, despite its offense reaching new levels of ineptitude on the day, only trailed by six with 9:58 remaining.
Anyone who’d watched the Broncos in the last year and a half had seen this move before: They’d find a way to score another touchdown and eke out a win. Only this time it didn’t break that way. The Broncos’ last-gasp drive ended with an A.J. Derby fumble with less than a minute remaining, and the Titans (7-6) beat the Broncos (8-5) 13-10.
The loss puts Denver’s playoff hopes in serious jeopardy with games against New England, Kansas City and Oakland remaining. It also served as reinforcement that even if the Broncos somehow sneak into the playoffs, they couldn’t make noise with the offense that they put on the field week in and week out.
Sunday was a new low for the Broncos’ players whose jobs are to score points. They went up against a Titans defense that entered the game ranked 20th in total defense (296 yards per game), 21st in yards per play allowed (5.7) and 22nd in points allowed (24.7). The Broncos mustered 10 points. Their only touchdown of the game was the result off a drive that started at Tennessee’s 26-yard line.
The Broncos rushed for 18 yards on nine carries. That’s not a misprint. If the Broncos’ yards per carry average (2.0) was a GPA, they would’ve flunked out of college. Trevor Siemian, the seventh-round pick who didn’t throw an NFL pass until this season, was asked to throw the ball 51 times — about 25 times too many. He threw for 334 yards and the touchdown to Sanders.
Oddly enough, Siemain looked like the least worrisome part of the Broncos’ offense if you didn’t count the receivers, which helps explain how bad this unit has become. The line is terrible — one of the worst in football — and needs serious maintenance. The injury to C.J. Anderson has proven Devontae Booker is just not a No. 1 running back.
Denver wasted another great game from its defense. True, Tennessee found some success rushing the ball early on. But the Broncos buckled down in the second half against the Titans’ run game and harassed Marcus Mariota, who’s been on fire for the last two months, into a horrendous day. Mariota finished 6-for-20 for 88 yards. The Titans had just 253 yards of total offense.
The Broncos needed to win this game, given how brutal their final three games are. The offense laid an egg. The Broncos are going to need to spend their time and resources figuring out how they can improve the offense this offseason.
Denver is asking too much of its defense on a weekly basis. It’s impossible to shoulder such a heavy load game after game after game. The weight of doing so catches up to you eventually, Sunday showed us.