Another week, another loss to a cellar-dweller for the Denver Broncos.
Was it another game trap game, or are the Broncos really just another middle-of-the-pack NFL team?
The Broncos’ 21-0 loss to the Chargers on Sunday is their third in four games and matches their three wins with three ugly, ugly losses. Sunday marks their first shutout loss since a 24-0 stinker in the L.A. Coliseum to the Raiders on Nov. 22, 1992.
Denver's 394-game scoring streak, the longest in the NFL, is now over.
Sunday’s loss will spark a few conversations the Broncos weren’t hoping they wouldn't need to have this season, starting with their quarterback.
Trevor Siemian fumbled twice to go along with 182 yards and an interception on 32 attempts. More importantly, the Broncos offense never clicked in any fashion, tallying their fewest total yards in a game this season, 251.
The Broncos got off to an ugly start when Brendan Langley chose to return the opening kickoff from two yards deep in the end zone but only managed to loop his way to the nine-yard-line. The rookie returned his first NFL kickoffs Sunday, because of injuries to Cody Latimer and Isaiah McKenzie.
Three plays later, Denver faced third down after C.J. Anderson picked up seven yards on two carries. Siemian connected on a deep ball to A.J. Derby, but Derby fumbled the ball and gave Los Angeles a first-and-10 at midfield.
The Philip Rivers-led Chargers scrambled down the field quickly, picking up a 34-yard chunk on a pass in the flat to tight end Hunter Henry. Darian Stewart was flagged for pass interference in the end zone, giving Los Angeles a first down at Denver’s one.
The Broncos’ front stuffed Melvin Gordon on four straight plays and gave the ball back to the offense. This could have turned things around for Denver, but it didn’t.
Instead, the brand of sloppy football that both the Chargers and Broncos seemed dead-set on playing continued for the remainder of the game.
The Broncos’ remaining first-half drives ended with the following results: punt, punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt. Only two of those lasted longer than four offensive plays, and four were three-and-outs.
Denver never wants Riley Dixon to work as much as he did against the Chargers, but Sunday’s game was particularly bad timing for the Broncos to ask for an eight-punt outing. Denver was without star gunner Cody Latimer, who is yet to return from a Week 3 knee injury, was out, Corey Nelson, who plays 80 percent of the teams’ special teams snaps, was out, and gunner Bennie Fowler was focused on contributing to the offense, in place of Emmanuel Sanders.
The turnover in special teams’ personnel helped Travis Benjamin’s return a punt for a touchdown for the first time since 2015.
Benjamin caught the end-over-end kick at his own 35 and ran straight up the field to the end zone. The Broncos’ coverage essentially parted straight down the middle, giving the 27-year-old former-Brown a clear path to a seven-point lead.
The Chargers scored again on a nine-play, 65-yard series, capped by a one-yard touchdown reception by scatback Austin Ekeler and Los Angeles capped the game off with a third touchdown after driving 92 yards and grinding almost seven minutes off the clock. Benjamin notched his second touchdown of the game, a 42-yard yard reception, with less than six minutes on the clock.
The Broncos defense didn't play particularly poorly, but an awful offense, combined with turnover troubles and a couple of big plays from Los Angeles was enough for the Chargers to blow out the Broncos.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
Travis Benjamin has to be the player of the game, despite not consistently contributing to the Chargers' effort. He scored two touchdowns, totaling 107 yards, despite only touching the ball twice on offense. The Chargers were nearly as incompetent offensively as the Broncos, but the spark provided by Benjamin was enough to catapult Los Angeles to a blowout victory.
PLAY OF THE GAME
Trevor Siemian lined up in the shotgun with four receivers split out wide facing a third-and-three, and a potential three-and-out, on the first drive of the game. A.J. Derby ran an out-and-up down the left sideline, beating safety Adrian Phillips who had no help behind him. Siemian, who was under heavy pressure, couldn’t get enough on the ball to lead Derby down the field, so the six-foot-five tight end had to come back to get the ball. Derby made the grab, but Phillips was able to make up ground and pull the ball out for a fumble, which was recovered by Los Angeles.
Denver had plenty of time to make up for this mistake, but Derby's fumble really set the tone for the game. This is the type of breakdown on all levels that has sent the Broncos defense back on the field too soon, too often, this season. The lack of execution left the Broncos trying to climb out of a hole, despite the ineptitude of the Chargers.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
“To get shutout, that’s not acceptable.” – Vance Joseph
BY THE NUMBERS
-3 –Denver’s turnover differential
1992 - The year of the last time the Broncos were shutout.
2.1 –Melvin Gordon’s yards per carry over 18 attempts
Make no mistake, Denver’s season took a significant turn for the worst on Sunday. A win would have sent the Broncos to Kansas City with a chance to take sole possession of pole position in the AFC West. Instead, Denver is backtracking across the border, facing a do-or-die primetime matchup on the road against what could be the best team in football.
Kansas City Chiefs (5-2), 6:30 p.m. MST, Monday, October 30; ESPN
The Chiefs will have extra rest heading into an AFC West matchup on Monday Night Football, after losing to the Raiders on Thursday night, this week. The Broncos will host the second matchup between the teams on New Years’ eve.