DENVER — The Denver Broncos entered Sunday night with one Brock on the hot seat and left with another Brock on an even hotter seat.
For the first time since Peyton Manning was at the helm of Denver’s offense, the quarterback (Brock Osweiler) was not the trending topic during and after the game. Filling his place instead was special teams coordinator Brock Olivo—and when the special teams coordinator is the story, that’s not good news.
It only took one minute and 38 seconds for Olivo’s group to get their first airtime on the national spotlight during Sunday Night Football when punt returner Isaiah McKenzie fumbled away a routine punt, giving the New England Patriots the ball back on Denver’s own 24-yard line. Two plays later, Tom Brady put the ball into the end zone for the first of New England’s five touchdowns.
“We can’t fumble a punt return after going three and out versus that offense. That’s where it started,” Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph said following the team’s 41-16 defeat.
Just before the turnover, Von Miller thought the game was “over” after Denver’s defense held the Patriots offense to what turned out to be not only their lone three-and-out, but the only drive led by Brady that didn’t end in a score. Miller added he thought the Broncos were “going to win the game” until the special teams unit had their say.
And that was just the start of the what Joseph would end up calling the worst special teams performance he has ever witnessed in his 45 years on this planet.
The very next time the Patriots touched the ball, following their touchdown after the muffed punt, Dion Lewis galloped his way 103 yards to the end zone on a kickoff return—tying for the third-longest return ever in Broncos history. Less than a quarter into the game, the special teams unit was 2-for-2 on the night, or 0-for-2 depending on the perspective.
But that was only the half of it.
Olivo’s unit also allowed a blocked punt—which New England then converted for a field goal—and committed an egregious 12-men on the field penalty, which gave New England a first down and kept their offense on the field, in which they promptly scored a touchdown.
“We gave up 24 points on [special] teams alone,” Joseph said. “Obviously the [special] teams was a glaring issue.”
In a game that included the Broncos hitting for the cycle—if you will—in special teams errors, they even dodged a few more. On the team’s 12-men on the field punt return, linebacker Brandon Marshall caught the punt. The problem? Marshall wasn’t the returner. It appeared as if he just simply wanted to catch the ball because he was in the area.
“I mean, blocked punt, muffed punt, punt return, kickoff return for a touchdown, you aren't going to win games like that,” safety Justin Simmons said following the team’s second-straight blowout loss. “You're never going to win an NFL game if you give up 24 points on special teams.”
To add insult to injury, the Patriots, led by the master mind of Bill Belichick, intentionally played into the Broncos' poor special teams—kicking the ball short to make Denver return seven of their eight kickoffs. Denver only made it past the 25-yard line twice.
On a night when virtually nothing went right for Olivo’s unit, everything went right for the Patriots.
In what could have been the most boneheaded special teams play of the night virtually went unnoticed when the Patriots were helped out by the officials. New England’s Lewis handed a caught kickoff to the official before taking a knee in the end zone. Instead of dropping the ball and making for an interesting play in the end zone, the official kindly gave him the ball back with the opportunity to take a knee.
The way the night went for the Broncos, that knee may have actually saved a big play from happening against their special teams unit.
If only an official hand been kind enough to fetch and return Isaiah McKenzie's latest gaffe.
“We just gotta be better on special teams; they outplayed us in that area,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. stated bluntly in the locker room. “When you play against Tom Brady, man, you can't spot him anything.”