The Denver Broncos displayed an abysmal performance against the Los Angeles Chargers in their final road game of the season. On Sunday, the depleted and disorganized Chargers dealt the Broncos their 10th loss of the season, emerging on top 19-16 in Week 16's matchup.
NFL Rookie of the Year candidate Justin Herbert managed to operate a rag-tag offense that never turned the ball over. So, who were the Broncos’ biggest winners and losers in Week 16? Here we go.
Winner: Melvin Gordon | RB
Against his former team, Gordon rushed the ball 16 times for 79 yards with a long of 17 yards on the first drive of the game. His 4.9 yards-per-rush average is a direct correlation to the violent and angry rushing style of the two-time Pro Bowler.
With teammate Phillip Lindsay on injured reserve, Gordon’s performance on Sunday, and over the last few weeks, have cemented his role on the team. Apart from what is expected to be a two-game suspension for his ongoing DUI court case, Gordon is poised to be the featured running back in Denver’s 2021 offense.
Winner: Noah Fant | TE
Fant was arguably the most consistent receiving threat for the entire Broncos offense. He was targeted nine times and recorded six catches for 65 yards. Early in the first quarter, on a 2nd-&-6 play on Denver's opening drive, Drew Lock overthrew Fant on a go-route in the end zone on what should’ve been a touchdown.
The 2019 first-round tight end proved to be the only reliable receiver for Lock in L.A., as Fant gained four first downs for an offense that recorded 396 total yards.
Winner: Michael Ojemudia | CB
While it wasn’t a perfect game for rookie third-rounder from Iowa, Ojemudia led the Broncos defense with seven solo tackles. Head coach Vic Fangio has been very critical all season of Ojemudia’s tackling and consistency woes, in addition to his ejection last week against the Buffalo Bills that saw the rookie get ejected for throwing a punch.
But in a depleted secondary unit, the 23-year-old covered and tackled three different receivers, as well as Herbert on two scrambles. Although this wasn’t a breakout game for Ojemudia, he was one of the only silver linings on a defense sputtering towards mediocrity in the final weeks of the season.
Loser: Jerry Jeudy | WR
If nobody in the Broncos organization has cautioned Jeudy on operating his social media accounts, this might be the time to do so. The first-round rookie wideout was credited with five drops in an embarrassing performance against a divisional opponent. The increasingly outspoken 21-year-old has been publicly critical of OC Pat Shurmur and Lock, but was targeted 15 times in L.A., only hauling six receptions for 61 yards.
To worsen the situation, Jeudy was observed throwing his helmet on the sideline before being consoled by Gordon. The Broncos coaches were also counseling Jeudy as the team headed into the tunnel during halftime. Then CBS viewers got to see his emotional outburst for themselves as the cameras panned to Jeudy slamming his helmet by the team bench.
According to Pro Football Focus, Jeudy entered the game with the league’s fifth-worst drop rate among pass-catcher with at least 50 targets. After Sunday's abysmal showing, his drop rate is now the second-worst behind teammate KJ Hamler and his total drops for the season now factor in the double digits.
There’s no doubt that Jeudy’s drops cost the Broncos multiple first downs, at least one field goal, and at least one touchdown. While the talent is there, Jeudy’s poor attitude and poor performance are very troubling on a boring and pathetic offense.
Loser: Drew Lock | QB
Fangio agreed with 9NEWS' Mike Klis that Sunday's game against the Chargers was a ‘microcosm’ of Lock’s 2020 campaign. Lock went 24-of-47 for 264 yards, two interceptions, and scored a rushing touchdown. In the first quarter, Lock orchestrated an impressive opening drive that took Denver’s offense to the Chargers 16-yard line.
Rather than protecting the ball in the red zone, Lock escaped pressure only to make an off-platform sidearm throw that was intended for DaeSean Hamilton but was deflected and intercepted by Casey Hayward. While Jeudy and Hamilton didn’t assist Lock in moving the ball with drops, Denver’s QB once again missed multiple open receivers throughout the game.
In a last-ditch effort to win the game, Lock was picked off on a ‘Hail Mary’ pass by Chargers WR Mike Williams in a prevent defense. This was the 11th consecutive start that Lock has turned the ball over, which leaves the only clean game played without a turnover in Week 1.
With one game to go, Lock is expected to not only flounder and cough up the football but is poised to lose his teammates with his worn-out clichés and inconsistent play.
Loser: De’Vante Bausby | CB
The 27-year-old cornerback struggled so much against the Chargers that he was benched mid-game. After getting torched last week against Pro Bowl wideout Stefon Diggs, Bausby was burned by the Chargers’ second-tier receivers Mike Williams and Ty Johnson.
Bausby recorded a mere three tackles after missing many others due to poor technique, positioning, and effort. Bausby started the game on bad footing after getting flagged for illegal contact which gave the Chargers a free first-down on their second series of the game. Fangio revealed that Bausby was benched due to his poor performance and replaced by undrafted rookie Parnell Motley, who just joined the team off waivers.
Fangio explained that Bausby begged for another opportunity to play, and while the coach obliged, the corner still couldn’t produce. The lack of talent depth at the cornerback position has been an extreme liability for Denver’s defense.
Expect to see Motley play against the Las Vegas Raiders next week as Fangio isn’t too keen on third, fourth, or fifth chances.
Loser: Vic Fangio | HC
The irony about Fangio agreeing this game was a ‘microcosm’ of Lock’s 2020 season is that the same could be said for him as head coach. Fangio, the defensive play-caller, called a decent game against the Chargers, limiting running back Austin Ekeler to just 45 yards on the ground and Herbert to just one passing score. Fangio's ‘bend but don’t break’ philosophy limited the Chargers to just 16 first downs, 55 offensive plays, and allowed the Broncos to lead the time-of-possession margin by approximately seven minutes. But Fangio the head coach is dramatically disconnected with his players and coaching staff.
At any given time during a game, the 62-year-old can be seen sulking by himself on the sideline, showing signs of detachment from anything related to the offense or special teams. Denver's special teams unit remains atrocious but Fangio seems to be content with the result of penalties, poor execution, and poor coaching.
On offense, second-year backup QB Brett Rypien is commonly seen coaching up Lock alongside actual QBs Coach Mike Shula. Don’t try to look for Fangio around any of his offensive players, let alone the QB. He’s made it clear by way of his press conferences and on-field actions that he has little-to-no interest in anything that isn't related to his defense.
Nonetheless, expect Fangio to (inexplicably) return in 2021.