Justin Edmonds / Associated Press
The Tennessee Titans handed the impoverished Denver Broncos a gift Monday night in the season opener at Mile High, and a Denver team that many expected to break out in 2020 responded by doing what it did best in 201
Despite Stephen Gostkowski missing out on three intermediate field goals and an extra point to cost his team double-digit points in the legendary kickers’ Titans debut, the Broncos found a way to lose just their third home opener in the last 21 years.
David Zalubowski / Associated Press / Associated Press
It marked the fourth defeat in the Broncos’ last 16 games in which they lost the lead in the last 30 seconds, but that might not have been the case if not-a-novice head coach Vic Fangio did not make a rookie mistake by refusing to use his timeouts for defense as the Titans moved inside the red zone for the final 90 seconds of the fourth quarter.
When Gostkowski got a chance to redeem himself with a chip-shot, go-ahead field goal, the Broncos only had 17 seconds to work with.
Fangio’s multiple explanations – that he did not want to extend Tennessee’s drive, that Titans defender Derrick Henry went beyond the boundaries of a particular game and that the Titans had kicking problems – were both confusing and an accusation of his confidence in his defense.
Nor did these explanations account for the fact that he should have spent at least one timeout well in advance before Henry went out of bounds with 24 seconds left. His mismanagement of the clock would not have been significantly less sinister if he had chosen to stop the clock seven seconds earlier than the Titans ultimately did with the incomplete pass that preceded Gostkowski’s potentially career-saving game-winner.
Cedric Golden @CedGolden
Vic Fangio has been in this league for 35 years and it was some of the worst watchmaking in league history. The Broncos are leaving the field with two timeouts left, the timeouts he should have used when Tennessee drove around the clock. Sorry, but that’s unforgivable.
But Fangio’s astonishing decision to save all three of his timeouts for the Hail Mary attempt does not come close to covering the chokery that occurred late Monday night in the Rockies.
The Broncos set up a foot shooting clinic that also included:
- A Melvin Gordon fumbled within the Denver 25-yard line, leading directly to a Tennessee touchdown in the first quarter.
- A series of questionable game calls that put too much on young quarterback Drew Lock and led to a Titans finish line and zero Denver points late in the first half.
- A brutal drop-down from the new rookie-wide receiver Jerry Jeudy that killed Denver’s opportunity to set the tone for the first series in the second half.
- Two personal offenses from the third quarter of defense, one of which – an obvious face mask on Josey Jewell – came on the Titans’ second touchdown drive.
Justin Edmonds / Associated Press / Associated Press
The Broncos did not perform poorly on either side of the ball, and they actually blinked more often than one might have expected from a team that was already superstar winger Von Miller (legs) and Pro Bowl receiver Courtland Sutton (shoulder) before losing the key. starters Phillip Lindsay (toe) and AJ Bouye (shoulder) before crunch time.
They averaged 5.5 yards per game. Playing (compared to 4.8 for Tennessee), they maintained balance by offense and did not allow a sack.
But that is what makes this such a mistake. Denver did not fall to 0-1 because it was without Miller, Sutton, Lindsay, Bouye, promising rookie wideout KJ Hamler or COVID-19 opt-out tackling Ja’Wuan James. Outside of some bad coaching moves and a few careless mistakes, the Broncos played well enough to defeat a feisty opponent who dropped a game during the Super Bowl last year.
This opponent tried his best to give the Broncos another win at home. As The Athletics’ Matt Schneidman noted on Twitter, Gostkowski’s performance was the worst single game shown by a kicker in nearly two years.
But the Broncos were unable to capitalize.
This is still a young team that is unfortunately less healthy than many others. But that does not change the fact that these Broncos have not yet figured out how to do a very important thing.
They can run, they can cover, they can put pressure on, and it even looks like they have learned how to pass protection and get the ball down the field. They have most, if not all, of the key ingredients to be a winner.
Now, if only they could figure out how to win.
Brad Gagnon has been covering the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012. Follow him on Twitter: @Brad_Gagnon.