The best way to describe the Denver Broncos’ 2020 season, for fans, would be to call it a roller-coaster of emotions. Fittingly enough, the last game of this up-and-down season featured one of the wildest finishes Broncos Country has seen of late.
Somehow the Las Vegas Raiders were able to score a touchdown and convert on a two-point try to take the lead in the closing seconds of the game, emerging victorious 32-31 and sending the home team hurtling towards a top-10 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
Week 17’s roller-coaster ride saw a massive explosion on the Broncos’ first two drives offensively, four total takeaways from the defense, and a massive let-down from the coaching staff in its game management to close out the game. Once again, the Broncos lost a game that they should have won due to the failure of the coaching staff to manage the game.
With the playoffs out of reach and nothing to lose, the Broncos went into full-blown evaluation mode. Several young players saw extended playing time, especially offensively.
Injuries, another overwhelming theme to this season, had a hand in that, but we saw the Broncos go into several different looks that we haven’t seen so far this season. With that said, what did we learn from the last game of a very frustrating season?
Young Players Shine in Limelight
Fans haven’t gotten to see much of rookie wideout Tyrie Cleveland, but with KJ Hamler on injured reserve and Tim Patrick exiting the game early with a foot injury, the seventh-rounder got an opportunity to showcase his skill-set in the first half. Cleveland caught 4-of-5 targets (all in the first half), with the only miss on a 4th-&-1 play that was well-defended by the Raiders’ defensive back.
Cleveland was a cliff note in the second half, but his performance in the passing game early kept the Broncos in motion. On the offensive line, Netane Muti showed his worth at the right guard position, playing the majority of the game after starter Graham Glasgow left with an injury.
Muti was well-positioned as a pass protector but struggled to gain much ground in the running game — the opposite result of his last meaningful playing time. Defensively, cornerback Parnell Motley showed a lot of physicality at the catch point and made some nice tackles after the reception. He showed up in the running game as well.
Beleaguered first-rounder Jerry Jeudy had his ‘pop’ game of the year, hauling five receptions (on seven targets) for 140 yards and a 92-yard touchdown — the Broncos’ longest play from scrimmage in 12 years. Considering his five-drop performance last week, it was just what the doctor ordered for Jeudy and a great way to punctuate his roller-coaster rookie campaign.
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Shurmur Loses Aggressiveness After First Scripted Plays
On the first two drives of the game, the Broncos were unstoppable. Sure, the Raiders’ defense isn’t a top-tier unit, but Drew Lock and company had several chunk gains to set them up in scoring position while they were on the initial script of 15 or so plays. After the first quarter, things got stagnant for Shurmur, with predictable running plays early in the series setting the offense up for failure.
What was truly frustrating was Pat Shurmur’s lack of aggression following the four turnovers that the Broncos’ defense created. Rather than taking shots, Shurmur went conservative, opting for predictable running plays early after the sudden change of possession.
Denver only mustered 10 total points on those four takeaways, most of which put the offense in a premium scoring position. Elite offenses take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes by taking shots down the field with a defense on its heels.
That’s a big reason the Broncos lost this game.
Fangio Still Can’t Manage Critical Game Situations
Once again, Vic Fangio showed his inability to manage the clock when the game was on the line. His usage of timeouts on the Raiders’ last drive left Broncos Country screaming at their televisions, wondering what the head coach was thinking.
With the clock running and the Raiders knocking on the door for a touchdown, Fangio opted to use a timeout. At the time, the Raiders were lost and confused as they struggled to get the right personnel on the field. That timeout allowed the Raiders to regroup and get into the right play call in a goal-to-go scenario.
Not only would Las Vegas score on the next play, the Raiders would also convert on the two-point try to take the lead as Fangio called another timeout amid swirling chaos on Jon Gruden’s sideline, allowing Las Vegas to regroup again, leaving the Broncos’ offense with 24 seconds and no timeouts to drive down to try to win the game with a walk-off field goal.
It’s yet another example of the egregious mismanagement of the game by Fangio — a theme he’s been unable to overcome over his first two seasons as the head coach of the Broncos.
Why he called a timeout when the Raiders were on the field and unable to even get into formation is beyond imagination. It was inexplicable.
The second timeout was even more egregious than the first, and yet another sign that Fangio is still swimming when it comes to being the head coach of the team and not just the defense.
These takeaways highlight issues that could echo well into the 2021 offseason, especially as it relates to Fangio and Shurmur.