The game didn’t mean anything, with both teams out of the playoff chase. The Broncos were actually better off to lose, as it improved their spot in the draft. Denver was playing a lot of backups, given that injuries have riddled their defense.
These are the ways a 32-31 loss to the Raiders on Sunday will be explained away. It will be dismissed by the apologists as no big deal, a blessing in disguise and even a moral victory for keeping it close.
In reality, however, a lot can be gleaned from the defeat. It was a stark reminder of what is wrong with the Broncos.
They lost because of terrible situational awareness. They lost because of ridiculously bad time management. And they lost because their defense couldn’t hold a late lead.
With 2:40 to play, the Broncos faced a second-and-three from their own 17-yard line. Melvin Gordon rattled off a 15-yard run to move the chains, but he went out of bounds on the play, stopping the clock.
That allowed the Raiders to save a timeout, which they would ultimately use to force a Broncos punt with 1:54 to play. If Gordon stays in bounds, Denver kicks it away with roughly 1:14 left on the clock.
This is a tremendous blunder. It’s not knowing what to do in a specific situation.
Clearly, that’s on the player. Gordon’s been playing football for more than a decade; he should know what to do late in a game.
It’s also on the coaching staff. They need to do a better job of reiterating what to do in every possible situation. That’s a big part of their job. And they failed.
Nonetheless, the Broncos were still in a good spot. They led 31-24 with 1:47 to play and the Raiders had to go 77 yards to tie the game.
They did. In 83 seconds.
This is nothing new. It’s happened over and over and over against to Vic Fangio’s defense during his two years as Denver’s head coach.
The Chargers did it last week. The Titans did it in the season opener. So this was the third time this year.
But don’t blame injuries, COVID and the other usual suspects. The same thing happened a year ago, when the Bears, Jaguars and Colts all mounted late-game drives to win in the waning seconds.
The Raiders also did it in last year’s finale, only to lose by a point when their two-point conversion failed. This time around, they converted the game-winning play.
In part, they can thank Fangio for the different outcome. The head coach had used Denver’s second timeout with 27 seconds left in the game, a smart move to conserve time in case the Broncos needed to mount another drive. He learned from his mistake in a similar situation in Week 1.
After the Raiders scored a touchdown, however, Fangio did something inexplicable – he called his final timeout before an untimed play. With the play clock winding down and Las Vegas scrambling, the head coach bailed them out; he gave Jon Gruden and Derek Carr time to get the personnel on the field that they wanted and the right play called. Darren Waller, who was on the sidelines when Fangio called the timeout, caught the decisive score.
“(We) changed our minds three times on the two-point conversion,” Gruden said after the game. “Fortunately, the used their timeout.”
Miraculously, the Broncos weren’t dead yet. Drew Lock hit Jerry Jeudy for a 25-yard completion to midfield, which was followed by a delay of game penalty on the Raiders. Denver was nearing field goal range with 12 seconds to play. That’s plenty of time to complete a couple of short passes, setting up a makeable field goal attempt for Brandon McManus.
Lock missed on first-and-10, burning three seconds off the clock, which caused Fangio to panic. With the scoreboard reading “:09,” the head coach sent out his kicker to attempt a 63-yard field goal, despite Denver having plenty of time to run at least one more play.
Trying to gain extra distance, McManus hit a low line drive. It was blocked. Game over.
The final score didn’t matter. The loss didn’t matter. But the final three minutes of the game certainly did.
In that time, the Broncos showed why they’re a 5-11 football team. During that span, they demonstrated why they’re 12-20 during the Fangio era, just one game better than Vance Joseph was during his two-year run in Denver.
A lack of situation awareness. Poor clock management. A porous defense late in games.
These are the hallmarks of a poorly coached team. And they were on full display against the Raiders.
That’s far from meaningless. In fact, it was very telling.
But because of the circumstances, the powers that be won’t notice. A free pass will be passed out at Dove Valley.
As a result, more of the same will be on tap. It’ll be Groundhog Day in the Mile High City come the 2021 season.