When the Broncos were 21-3 at the start of the second quarter, Broncos Country rejoiced as a year of anguish lifted off the Mile High faithful.
Little did we know, three hours later the feeling of anguish would be piled on in agonising fashion, leaving the raptures of a second-quarter blowout far in the rearview mirror.
From egregious penalty no-calls to blown-up pass protection the second-half car crash sank Broncos fans into a spiral of all-to-familiar despair.
Here are my six takeaways from the Denver Broncos’ devastating 35-33 loss to the Washington Commanders.
The offence looked good (again) *in the first half
Russell Wilson came hot out of the gate last week against the Las Vegas Raiders and he galloped out to an even more impressive start on Sunday.
Wilson went six of eight for 154 yards throwing two touchdowns in the first half and looked to be having an even bigger improvement under Sean Payton.
Payton’s playcalling allowed the offence to run the ball opening up play action for Wilson to then show his arm strength throwing down the field to rookie Marvin Mims Jr. who had a great game.
If the Broncos can continue the trends we’ve seen in both the first halves this season across entire games then the offence won’t be a concern in 2023.
Marvin Mims Jr.
It’s no secret that George Paton is good at drafting in the middle rounds of the draft, and when Paton moved up to take Marvin Mims Jr. at the end of the second round, the Broncos found a bonafide star.
On Sunday, Mims showcased his speed and elusiveness both in the passing game and on special teams as a return man.
A 60-yard touchdown reception, 113 yards (off of two receptions!) and a 31-yard punt return put the former Oklahoma wideout on the map in Denver.
With the offence in dire need of explosiveness and over-the-top vertical threats, Mims Jr. will quickly find his purpose in Payton’s scheme going forward.
Pass rush finally got home
It wasn’t a mauling by the Broncos front seven, but after the woeful showing of last week, the four Broncos sacks were a refreshing sight.
There was often pressure on Sam Howell in the first half and the pass rush disrupted the Commanders’ offensive game.
Jonathan Cooper notched two sacks on the day and impressed with his performance, stepping up for fellow 2021 draftee Baron Browning who remains on the PUP list.
Penalties wiped a couple of other huge sacks for the Broncos and had they stood perhaps we’d have more praise for the impact the defence had on this game.
Defence cannot make a stop
While the pressure generated was a positive sign, the overall defensive performance once again left a lot of questions for Sean Payton and Vance Joseph to answer.
Through one-and-a-half quarters of football, they had managed to hold the Commanders to only three points, until a Russell Wilson fumble shifted the momentum to Washington.
After that moment the Commanders put up 32 points to the Broncos’ three in the next two quarters worth of football and the game flipped completely.
If it wasn’t Howell dissecting the zone coverage with his arm it was Brian Robinson running angry on the ground or Antonio Gibson on the screen pass which killed the defence in the second half.
With a trip across the country to face the red-hot Miami Dolphins looming, Joseph needs to figure out how he can make this defence work, and he needs to do it quickly.
Washington’s defence ran the show
For all the issues of the offence in the second half, we must give the Commanders’ second-half defence their flowers, they changed the game after halftime and helped the offence in being able to put up 32 points.
Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Chase Young consistently caused issues for Wilson, disrupting the passing game and stuffing the run on early downs, knocking the Broncos completely off rhythm.
The offensive line has disappointed over two weeks, struggling in pass protection, admittedly against some of the best pass rushers in the league in Chase Young and Maxx Crosby, but question marks are there to be answered once again for Payton.
When your franchise quarterback gets sacked seven times and hit a further 14 times, there’s always going to be a huge struggle to mount a functional offence.
It often feels cheap blaming the officials after a loss, and they weren’t the reason the Broncos didn’t win this game being 21-3 up, but they undoubtedly played their part.
The fumble which flipped the momentum of the game on its head came after a missed face mask on Russell Wilson, as clear as day in front of the down judge on the sideline, but a no-call gave Washington the ball with short field.
Then, as time expired on the two-point conversion to send the game to overtime a defensive pass interference call wasn’t given against Benjamin St.Juste in coverage on Courtland Sutton and the Broncos lost the game.
Now, who knows what happens in overtime, the Commanders could have received the kick-off and followed up their second-half display winning the game on the first drive of OT, but when the stakes in the NFL are so high, missed calls like that are so hurtful for a franchise.
Looking ahead to week three
After two weeks Sean Payton has more unanswered questions than I’m sure he’d have liked to have at this stage of the season, especially now they stare 0-3 in the face on the road to Miami next Sunday.
Nonetheless, it will be a frenzy of past and present Broncos as Vance Joseph and Payton try to better Vic Fangio and Bradley Chubb and cause a much-needed upset to buoy the mood in Broncos Country.
Lookout for a wristband on Wilson’s arm this week as Payton hopes to sharpen up playcalling, and hope to see a few players return to help the Broncos’ depth, particularly on defence, namely Frank Clark and Riley Moss.