Losing sucks. Losing on the big stage of Sunday Night Football sucks even worse.
Falling to the Kansas City Chiefs for the 12th time in a row sucks even more. We're talking multiple levels of suck here.
Denver Broncos are down in the dumps after the team lost to the Chiefs, 22-9. It isn’t just the fact that Denver lost, especially given that the team was a 10-point underdog to a Chiefs team coming off of a bye week, but getting the better of Kansas City in so many statistical categories and still losing so soundly just leaves a bad taste in one's mouth.
The Broncos had more first downs than the Chiefs at a clip of 22-to-15. The Broncos ran 72 plays to the Chiefs’ 54. Denver gained 404 yards for 5.6 yards per play to Kansas City’s 267 for 4.9.
The Broncos had only five penalties called against them for minus 37 yards with the Chiefs being flagged seven times for 60 lost yards. The Broncos possessed the football 33:30 compared to the Chiefs' 26:30.
The Broncos, however, lost the two most important metrics on Sunday; turnovers — in which Denver lost 3-to-1 — and, of course, points on the scoreboard. The Broncos played admirably against the Chiefs and still lost emphatically.
It hurts when a team’s defense holds all-world quarterback Patrick Mahomes to 15-of-29 for 184 yards and an interception with a QBR of 44.4 in what was one of his least efficient games he's had as a passer all-time. Kansas City’s Pro Bowl playmakers — Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill — were even held mostly in check with the former earning 27 yards and the latter tallying 22 yards.
The Broncos' defense may have given up 10 points in its first two possessions of the game, but other than that, it did everything possible to give the team a chance — outside of scoring itself. It’s just hard to win football games when your offense and quarterback struggled as Denver’s did on Sunday.
On the whole, Teddy Bridgewater has been a league-average starting quarterback in 2021. He has played relatively well and super efficiently when playing with a lead but has been less than stellar when having to play a heavy drop-back game trying to overcome a scoring deficit. Historically, Teddy hasn’t been able to lead his teams to comebacks in his career.
Not only was Bridgewater unable to lead the Broncos to a comeback on Sunday, but he was the biggest factor in the team’s loss, despite a valiant effort. Throwing two poor interceptions, not giving his pass-catchers many shots to make a play vertically, and posting a horrible QBR of 22.2 means the team is likely to lose and painfully so.
Teddy shouldn’t get all of the blame, though. Far from it. The Broncos' special teams once again got in on the misery as Tom McMahon’s unit produced another negative game-changing play this season. Following the Broncos' defense forcing a three-and-out with a few minutes left in the third quarter of a 13-3 game, Diontae Spencer's muffed punt gave possession back to the Chiefs in Denver’s territory.
An easy field goal made it 16-3 and a Teddy pick-six turned that into a 22-3 game. Winners win and losers lose.
This loss hurts without a doubt. Falling to 6-6 on the season, Denver now likely has to go 4-1 down the stretch to earn a playoff berth for the first time since 2015. Possible? Certainly. Likely? Probably not.
All is not lost, though, as there are some truths that help cushion another loss to the Chiefs. However, isn’t this team exactly what most believed it would be this season?
Losing a road game to Kansas City to be floating around .500 in December with a chance to make the playoffs this season was always the best-possible outcome with Bridgewater under center and it is squarely where the Broncos have fallen at this point in time. Even off of a loss, though, there are plenty of positives to reflect on that should give folks in Broncos Country optimism going forward.
Talented & Productive Draft Class
For starters, the Broncos’ 2021 draft class looks superb. With contributions from almost every draft pick this season in CB Patrick Surtain II, RB Javonte Williams, LB Baron Browning, OG Quinn Meinerz, S Caden Sterns, and OLB Jonathon Cooper, the Broncos have laid a foundation of good, cost-controlled young players to kickoff George Paton’s reign as the general manager.
Sure, there will be some steps forward followed by steps back for these players over the next few seasons but these rookies have resoundingly and emphatically made their presence felt this season on the football field. Linear growth for players year-to-year in the league is a lie but on the whole, this rookie class should be able to continue to improve over these next few seasons.
Hitting on so many draft picks means that the Broncos have flexibility heading into the offseason at a number of positions. With rookies able to fill in for the snaps of RB Melvin Gordon, OG Graham Glasgow, and S Kareem Jackson, Denver can save some money and allocate it elsewhere on the roster.
Furthermore, hitting on so many draft selections in 2021 means that Denver doesn’t necessarily need as many picks this year to fill out its roster, possibly allowing Paton to pursue a quarterback via trade or be aggressive in the draft.
Re-Signing Stud WRs on the Relative Cheap
Another team-building positive is the fact that while neither is putting up the numbers one would hope, being able to retain wideouts Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick to seemingly below-market deals can further help lure in a quarterback or help whichever guy is under center next season become the best version of himself in Denver. Sure, it's frustrating to know you have the talent on the boundary as Denver has at receiver, only to see it not utilized down the field.
Still, those receivers will be here for whichever quarterback comes next. To have those two locked up for the next three-ish seasons should help provide needed stability, leadership, and talent at wide receiver.
Capital to be Aggressive in 2022 Free Agency & Draft
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Broncos now have afforded the opportunity to be aggressive this offseason thanks to their capital. With a projected $48 million in cap space next season and five picks in the top-100 of the 2022 draft, the Broncos have ample flexibility to play both the veteran trade market as well as the draft itself when it comes to searching for an answer at quarterback.
It does seem like Paton and the Broncos will aggressively pursue Aaron Rodgers and/or Russell Wilison if either becomes available this offseason, but if not, Denver can peruse the 2022 quarterback crop in search of 'their guy'.
With that additional draft capital, Denver can afford to be a bit bolder as the cost will not be as detrimental to the health of the team long-term. Even if Denver sits back and isn’t aggressive enough to walk away with a quarterback, letting Paton pick another draft class with ample capital in the top-100 selections doesn’t seem like the worst strategy either given the early returns of his first class.
Yes, the Broncos losing to Kansas City on Sunday night was frustrating. Yes, Denver has been maddeningly up and down this season. There are plenty of reasons to doubt this team from the coaching staff to the quarterback to the injuries, etc.
But this team is right where many expected it to be at this point in the season. However, more important than playing at expectations for the 2021 season is the fact that this team is set up to continue to climb up the ladder in the seasons to come.
It is the NFL, after all, so it will most likely all come down to who Paton can find to play under center as any team is only as good as its quarterback. The Broncos have good bones, though, with a very exciting young draft class continuing to show out, many core pieces under contract for the next few seasons, and more cap space and draft capital this offseason than almost any other team in the league.
Only the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets possess more cap space and draft capital this offseason. The Broncos may not be where many had hoped coming off of a loss to the Chiefs and falling to .500 on the season.
But when one takes a step back and looks at this team from the macro perspective, it’s hard not to have optimism for the direction of this roster and franchise. Now, if the Broncos could just find a long-term solution at quarterback… if so, watch out.
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