We've heard Denver Broncos head coach Vic Fangio's "death by inches" philosophy and how that can be the difference between a win and a loss.
Sunday's 27-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers saw a lot of inches given up, to the point they added up to a mile.
Most of these transgressions happened in the first half, but a couple of mistakes occurred in the second half. These are miscues that are small in isolation, but when added up, can cost the Broncos a lot against a good team.
Let's look at the costly little things that ultimately factored big in Denver's second loss of the season.
1. Javonte Williams' Delay of Game Penalty
In the second quarter, with the Broncos trailing 7-3, the team got a big play from Williams on 3rd-&-1. The rookie found a hole and turned what the Broncos likely hoped would be enough to move the chains into a big gain of nearly 50 yards.
Williams was tackled short of the goal line and celebrated his big play by spiking the ball, resulting in a five-yard penalty for delay of game.
It was a case of the rookie getting caught up in the moment, but it put the Broncos further away from the goal line. Still, there could have been a chance for a go-ahead touchdown if not for what happened two plays later.
2. Teddy Bridgewater Takes a Sack on 2nd-&-Goal
With the ball on the Steelers 5-yard line, the Broncos went for a pass and the defense blitzed. Bridgewater got sacked by Devin Bush for a 12-yard loss.
It appeared, before the ball was snapped, that Bridgewater failed to communicate with players about where the blitz was coming from. A quick adjustment might have allowed Williams or right tackle Bobby Massie to pick up Bush and give Bridgewater a shot.
Instead, the Broncos were forced into 3rd-and-Goal at the 17-yard line, which meant a field goal instead of a touchdown, and resulted in the team still trailing instead of taking the lead.
3. Dre'Mont Jones' 15-yard Penalty on a Field Goal
The Broncos managed to hold the Steelers to 4th-&-12 at their own 33-yard line and Chris Boswell kicked a 51-yard field goal. However, the Broncos were called for a penalty.
Turns out that Jones, in trying to get through to block the field goal, used Steelers linemen to push himself up and over them. That's illegal, leading to a 15-yard penalty and a new set of downs for Pittsburgh.
We'll get to what happened next in a few, but this was another special teams mistake that came back to haunt the Broncos.
4. Alexander Johnson Drops Two Potential Interceptions
Ben Roethlisberger did hit plenty of open receivers, but he had some bad throws, too. And there were two instances of Johnson not capitalizing.
Late in the second quarter, on 2nd-and-15 at the Broncos 18-yard line, Roethlisberger tried to get the ball to running back Najee Harris, but the throw was off and Johnson stepped in. However, the ball bounced off his fingers and fell incomplete.
On the next play, cornerback Kyle Fuller was called for defensive pass interference and the Steelers would score a touchdown.
Now, we go back to the Jones penalty. Johnson had a chance to negate that penalty when he got his hands on the ball on another pass attempt by Roethlisberger to Harris. The linebacker dropped it, and Roethlisberger lived to throw a touchdown pass to Chase Claypool on the next play.
That was twice that Johnson was in position to make a play and didn't. If he makes those plays, that's perhaps a different result on the final scoreboard.
Had the Broncos not had those two costly mistakes after Williams' long run, they may very well have scored a touchdown, taken the lead, and things might have unfolded differently from there.
Later in the game, three costly mistakes gave the Steelers 14 points when, if everything stays equal, might have been just three (Johnson's second dropped interception doesn't happen if Jones doesn't commit that penalty).
While the Broncos deserve some credit for their frantic push down the stretch, those little mistakes earlier in the game, along with other miscues, put them into a situation they didn't need to be in.
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