7 Winners, 5 Losers from Broncos' 16-14 Loss to Titans
The Denver Broncos — offensively and defensively — came up small in the clutch on Monday Night Football. Going against a more battle-tested Conference opponent, the Broncos' relative inexperience — both at the personnel and coaching level — got the best of them.
One would hope that these type of 'close, but no cigar' heartbreakers can serve as the impetus for some sort of growth, both for individual players and coaches and the team as a whole. Time will tell.
Ultimately, the Broncos squandered a late lead to fall to the Tennessee Titans 16-14 at Empower Field at Mile High. When it comes to the Broncos, who were the big winners and losers at the individual level?
Winner: Drew Lock | QB
I'm calling Lock's 2020 debut performance a winning one, though make no mistake, it wasn't a perfect one. There were two fumbled snaps that were Lock's fault and he missed two wide-open throws on the night, both of which would have put a touchdown on the board for the Broncos.
What I liked about Lock's performance was his connection with tight end Noah Fant, his obvious command and comfortability in the Pat Shurmur offense, and his mobility and elusiveness in the pocket. Lock was not sacked on the night, and while that's a big credit to the offensive line, the quarterback deserves his fair share for his preternatural pocket sense.
There were some Week 1 jitters from Lock to be certain, which explains the two bad snaps and misfires, but overall, he finished 22-of-23 for 229 yards and one touchdown with zero interceptions. He posted a rating of 95.0, which is the fourth time in his six NFL starts he's been over 90.
Winner: Garett Bolles | LT
When it comes to any offensive lineman, they're best seen not heard. Typically, if an O-lineman's name gets called during a game, it's for an unfavorable reason.
Bolles kept his head down and did not draw a single penalty on Monday night. Although my view of Pro Football Focus' individual player grades is skeptical at best, the analytics site graded Bolles among the best on the Broncos' offense.
The Lock/Mike Munchak effect on Bolles might be a thing.
Winner: Noah Fant | TE
As I mentioned, Fant and Lock had a mind-meld going on in the first half, connecting on 5-of-6 targets for 81 yards and a touchdown. The only problem? All of that production came in the first half.
Pat Shurmur went completely away from Fant in the second half and the Broncos' offense suffered for it. Fant looked big, fast, and explosive in his Year 2 debut. If Week 1 is any harbinger, methinks Fant is on deck for a massive 2020 season, just as I predicted during the offseason.
Winner: Jeremiah Attaochu | OLB
There was only one sack on the night and it was Attaochu's to claim. Attaochu isn't a guy who's going to blow away the opposing tackle with a lightning-quick get-off, or string together a street fighter's combination of pass-rushing moves, but his motor and football IQ allow him to make an impact. He also picked up four tackles (three solo).
With no Von Miller and Bradley Chubb still building back his confidence, the Broncos need Attaochu to help pick up the slack. It wasn't dominant, but Attaochu hinted that he's up for the task with his debut 2020 performance.
Winner(s): Bradley Chubb | OLB | Bryce Callahan | CB
I'm throwing these two in as one header because even though neither Chubb nor Callahan executed remarkably well, both played the entire game, which is a moral victory. Chubb missed 12 starts last year with a torn ACL while Callahan missed the entire season with a complication to a prior foot surgery.
No doubt, Week 1's action will be confidence-boosting for both young players, whom the Broncos expect to rely on tremendously this season.
Winner: Sam Martin | P
Martin was a field-position weapon for the Broncos in his debut. Punting five times, he averaged 46.4 yards per punt and really pinned the Titans deep in their own territory on multiple occasions.
Martin's efforts were a big reason the Broncos' defense was able to hold the Titans to just 16 points. It seems this team finally found its punter of the future.
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Loser: Jerry Jeudy | WR
It wasn't all bad from the rookie first-rounder but he clearly felt the pressure of having to be the man in his debut start with Courtland Sutton injured. Jeudy dropped two wide-open passes, both of which came in crucial game situations and both of which he simply was looking to run after the catch before securing the ball. Concentration issues and there's no reason to believe he can't fix them.
Getting Sutton back on the field will allow Jeudy to more naturally feel out his rookie season. By virtue of his route-running, Jeudy was creating some phat separation against the Titans' cornerbacks, but it was quite clear he's not ready to be a No. 1 yet.
Jeudy finished with four receptions on eight targets for 56 yards. If he doesn't drop those two passes, he ends up with six catches for around 80 yards at least. Still, solid production for his NFL debut.
Loser: Melvin Gordon | RB
Gordon fumbled in his first game as a Broncos after co-starting the game alongside Phillip Lindsay. It was an inopportune lost fumble as the Broncos had jumped out to a 7-0 lead and had a stranglehold on the momentum.
The Titans made the Broncos pay for Gordon's fumble, punching it in the end zone on the ensuing short-field possession, and tying the game. The Broncos struggled to regain their offensive footing until the second half, when Gordon served as the tip-of-the-spear on a nine-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in his first touchdown in the Orange and Blue.
So, it wasn't all bad for Gordon, as he did make a positive impact. But that fumble was inexcusable and really cost the Broncos. He finished the game with 78 yards rushing on 15 carries with three receptions for eight yards.
Loser: Elijah Wilkinson | RT
While Bolles thrived, Wilkinson struggled on the other side especially in pass blocking. Whether it was Jadeveon Clowney or Harold Landry, whichever Titans' edge rusher lined up over Wilkinson to pass rush typically found a way to pressure Lock.
Although, again, he wasn't sacked, the biggest hit Lock took on the night came on a play in which Wilkinson's lack of foot speed allowed Landry to turn the corner and lay a big hit on the young quarterback. On third down, no less. If I'm the Broncos, considering his 12 starts last year combined with Monday night's performance, I'm giving Demar Dotson a chance to play in Week 2.
Fat chance, though. The Broncos love Wilkinson at right tackle for some reason.
Loser: Vic Fangio | Head Coach
I don't want to spend too much time on this because I've already written extensively on the subject, but Coach Fangio's glaring error in the closing minute of play — failing to call a timeout with the Titans in chip-shot field goal territory and about to take the lead — was alarming. His clock management and situational awareness was horrid.
Adding insult to injury, given a one-point lead to protect and an opponent having to start on its own 10-yard line with three minutes to go, once again, Fangio's defense came up small in the clutch. The Broncos allowed Ryan Tannehill to decimate the middle of the field with the dink-and-dunk passing game, while running back Derrick Henry, who'd been mostly bottled up all night, finally broke the defense's back.
From an Xs and Os perspective alone, Fangio makes this list. Throw in his clock management faux pas and his decision to go for it on 4th-&-Goal in the first half (unsuccessfully), and he stands out starkly as one of the losers of the night.
Loser: Pat Shurmur | Offensive Coordinator
Similarly to Jeudy and Gordon, heck, and even Fangio (the Broncos' defense played well enough to win until the final possession), Shurmur's first day calling the offense as a Bronco wasn't all bad. Where Shurmur went right was in calling some creative plays in the first half that created some favorable matchups for Fant and Jeudy, and allowed Lock to connect with his first-round tight end for some big plays.
What was inexcusable was Shurmur's game-plan that completely, and I mean completely, ignored Fant in the second half — the one offensive Bronco the Titans seemed to not have an answer for. Game flow likely played a role but Shurmur deserves to be criticized for not exploiting the Titans with Fant in the second half.
Throw in some questionable play-calls where he got a little too cute on the goal-line, and his absolutely atrocious four-minute offense decisions, and Shurmur lands on the losers list. However, I did see enough to be encouraged that this offense is a good fit for Lock and also prime to maximize the unique collection of talent the Broncos have on that side of the ball.