No, Broncos Country, you are not experiencing Deja Vú. The Denver Broncos lost Monday night’s season opener after having the lead with under :30 seconds left in the 4th quarter. The Tennessee Titans leave the Mile High City with a 16-14 victory dropping the Broncos to 0-1 on the unique 2020 season.
Even though The Broncos entered this game without their No. 1 wide receiver in Courtland Sutton (AC Joint Sprain) and future Hall of Famer Von Miller (Dislocated Ankle Tendon), they looked good at the start. They took a 7-0 lead in the first quarter after Drew Lock directed the play while rolling right and threw a strike to Noah Fant in the endzone. All of this came after Stephen Gostkowski missed a 47 yard field goal, which would be his first of three missed field goals.
The Titans did answer in the second quarter after recovering a Melvin Gordon fumble on the Broncos 23 yard line. Ryan Tannehill found MyCole Pruitt from the one yard line and tied up the game 7-7. On the ensuing drive, the Broncos had their own chance to score from the one-yard line but couldn’t cash in on fourth down. Another Gostkowski missed field goal closed the half.
The third quarter was dominated by the Titans. They controlled the clock and tempo the entire quarter. The Broncos only had six plays for three yards(!) in the quarter. While the Titans and Derrick Henry didn’t have one big play, they methodically worked their way down the field. In fact, Henry had as quiet of a night as possible for someone with 113 rushing yards. The 2019 rushing champ only averaged 3.7 yards per carry Monday night.
The Titans started the fourth quarter off with a touchdown to take a 13-7 lead after a Gostowksi missed PAT. Tannehill threw his second touchdown from the one yard line when he found Jonnu Smith, on what looked like a rare blown coverage from Justin Simmons. The Broncos responded on their next possession driving 75 yards highlighted by a big play from rookie Jerry Jeudy. Gordon plowed his way into the endzone to give the Broncos a 14-13 lead with 9:08 left in the fourth quarter. After trading punts for the next four possessions, Gostkowski finally made his first kick of the night – a 25 yard field goal to give the Titans a 16-14 lead with :17 seconds left. Prior to the kick, the Broncos let the clock run down and decided to save their three timeouts for the after-game party. In a very questionable coaching decision, Vic Fangio didn’t use a timeout until there were :2 seconds left in the game and the Broncos needed a miracle. More on the timeout situation below.
There is a lot to unpack here. In a game the Broncos should have won, they regressed to their 2019 selves and missed opportunities. Here’s where we take a deep dive into my 10 main takeaways from Monday night’s tough loss.
- Drew Lock and the offense looks capable of being explosive but needs to be consistent. It’s no secret that Broncos pushed all of their chips in the middle on Lock and reloaded this offense. For the most part, Lock looked the part. His touchdown to Fant was beautiful. Seeing him dictate the flow of the game is a refreshing change for Broncos Country. Lock finished the game 22/33 with 216 yards, one touchdown, and no turnovers. Those numbers can be better, and would have been if it weren’t for some critical drops, but you can win a game with that performance. However, there were some lulls, especially in the third quarter, and some bad overthrows that do stick out in this one.
- Noah Fant was unstoppable the first half. The second year TE had 81 yards and a touchdown in the first half, but wasn’t even targeted in the second half. I put a lot of this on new offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, who I wasn’t too impressed with in this one. Jerry Jeudy also showed flashes but had two critical drops. Outside of the dropped passes, he looked great. The rookie showcased his route running and ability to create after the catch. However, the drops are unforgettable, especially the second one, and need to be cleaned up moving forward. He is a rookie so I’m not too worried about it, but he needs to realize that he doesn’t need to score a touchdown on every play.
- The offensive line is the consensus weak link on this team, but had a good game. Lock wasn’t sacked, although he definitely felt pressure from Clowney and company in this one. I thought rookie center Lloyd Cushenberry played exceptionally well. I also thought that Garrett Bolles was a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t a perfect game from Bolles, but it’s better than what we’ve seen in the past from him. Once again, there was pressure throughout the game but the protection was better than recent memory.
- Sticking with the big boys, the Broncos defensive line was fantastic last night. Led by former Titan Jurrell Casey, the front seven as a whole had a strong game. Henry did manage to have 113 yards, but it was a grind for him all game long. Dre’Mont Jones, Shelby Harris, Mike Purcell, and Casey made him work for every inch. Linebacker Alexander Johnson also had a great game leading the team with 12 tackles. He did get called for a critical penalty that wiped away an interception, but ESPN never showed the replay so I’m not sure what he did.
- Sticking with the defense, I thought that the pass rush was better than expected. Losing Von Miller is a “gut punch” as Drew Lock says. Von was poised for a big comeback season, but now will be lucky to see the field in 2020. Bradley Chubb had an okay game in this one. It was promising that he played nearly 80% of the defensive snaps, but his name wasn’t called much. Jeremiah Attaochu and Malik Reed both played well in this one. They’ll both need productive seasons to lessen the loss of Von.
- The Broncos were forced to roll out a young secondary for a lot of this game (more on this later, spoiler alert: injuries suck). Rookies Michael Ojemudia (third round) and Essang Bessey (undrafted) both played more than Vic Fangio probably wanted. There was some good and there was some bad from both of these young players. I was more impressed with Ojemudia and his on-ball skills than I was expecting though. The Iowa alum should have had his first career interception if it weren’t for the phantom Alexander Johnson penalty. Along with the young duo, Broncos Country had their first look at Bryce Callahan. I thought he looked really good and did a nice job on AJ Brown in the slot. Bouye played well albeit we only saw him for the first half (once again, injuries suck).
- I decided to hold on to the topic that everyone has been waiting for, much like Vic Fangio decided to hold onto his timeouts down the stretch. For some unknown reason, he let the clock tick away and only gave his offense 17 seconds to operate at then end. While he attributes Henry running out of bounds and Gostkowski’s struggles, I still don’t think there are any excuses. Once the Titans crossed the 40 yard line, the Broncos should have been using their timeouts. As I mentioned in the game recap, the Broncos used their first timeout with 2 seconds left in the game. That’s unacceptable in a two point game. Lock barely even had a chance to pull off the comeback. Hopefully this doesn’t haunt Denver moving forward like it did at the beginning of the 2019 season.
- While the time management was questionable at best, it wasn’t necessarily the deciding factor in this game. The Broncos missed a lot of opportunities Monday night. For starters, they failed to punch it in from the one yard line three times in the second quarter. I do believe going for it on fourth down was the right decision, but a shovel pass to Jake Butt is a head-scratching play call. The Melvin Gordon fumble was also a big turning point. The Broncos needed to give their defense a break, but instead gave Tennessee a short field to work with and they capitalized. The roughing penalty on Johnson wiping away an interception for Ojemudia was another unforced error. I would consider the entire third quarter a missed opportunity as well. The play calling was bad. They tried to be cute when they just needed to control the ball. Two quick three and outs were the result. Obviously, the biggest missed opportunity was at the end. The Broncos had control of this one, but another costly three and out and an inability to stop the dink and dunk plays left no room for error. While this is obviously Broncos focused, we do have to note that Stephen Gostkowski missed 10 total points for the Titans. That obviously changes the narrative and the outcome of the game.
- I do want to also point out the lack of OTAs and preseason games because I feel as though it showed for both teams. There were sloppy stretches on both sides and it just didn’t feel like everyone was 100% prepared. Maybe it was the empty stadium and the lack of crowd noise, but this one felt like a second preseason game to me.
- Last but certainly not least, did you hear the news? Injuries suck. The Broncos were already shorthanded coming into this game. The potential season ending injury for Von Miller stings, but not having Courtland Sutton may have been worse. Rookie wide receiver and second round pick KJ Hamler was also sidelined. It put a lot of pressure on Jeudy and Fant to make plays. Not to mention, two other Bronco starters got hurt during the game. Cornerback A.J. Bouye suffered a shoulder injury and Philip Lindsay missed the second half because of a toe injury. Fingers crossed this team can get healthy soon because they can’t afford another loss.
Overall, I think there are some positives in this game that the Broncos can build upon, but they need to right the ship quickly if they want to keep their heads above water. However, I don’t think we are in panic mode. We’ll find out a lot about this team following next week’s game vs the Pittsburg Steelers. Let me know what you think of the week 1 loss to the Titans, what you’re looking for next week against the Steelers, and anything else I may have missed over on Twitter @gardensportz