INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Broncos coach Vic Fangio wanted to give his players a crumb of credit for rallying from a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers before eventually losing 19-16.
“I think that reflects well on the team, their effort, their toughness, their resiliency,” he said.
But before another question could be asked, Fangio changed gears in what could be seen as him being fed up with the shoddy execution during another lost Broncos season and/or telling a loyal-but-frustrated fan base that the status quo isn’t acceptable.
Fire away, Vic.
“We have to start making plays and not do the things that cause you to lose a game like that,” Fangio said after Michael Badgley’s game-winning 37-yard field goal with 41 seconds remaining. “We can’t give up an opening (53-yard) kickoff return where they return it deep into our end for a field goal. We have to make our field goals. We have to catch the ball when it’s thrown to us. We have to throw the ball more accurately at times. We have to play receivers tighter no matter who’s playing corner and not just play scared. We have to tackle when we have the opportunity to tackle.
“We have to do all of the things winning teams do.”
The Broncos (5-10) aren’t close to being a winning team and they struggle to beat non-winning teams. They have lost to the Chargers (6-9), Atlanta (4-11) and Las Vegas (7-8).
Despite the litany of issues cataloged by Fangio, the Broncos rallied to tie the score on Brandon McManus’ 52-yard field goal with 2:42 remaining. One more stop and the Broncos could steal a game from the Chargers like they did in Week 8, when they erased a three-touchdown deficit.
But the Chargers used three big plays (11, 23 and 23 yards) to set up Badgley’s winner. On the ensuing drive, Broncos receiver DaeSean Hamilton’s 25-yard catch, to the 49, converted a fourth-and-10. As time expired, quarterback Drew Lock’s heave to the end zone was intercepted by receiver-turned-cornerback Mike Williams.
From 2000-16, the Broncos had one double-digit loss season (4-12 in 2010); they’ve lost at least 10 games in three of the past four years.
The Broncos are also on the cusp of finishing last in the AFC West for the second time in four years; they finished last just once from 2000-16 (2010).
If the Peyton Manning Era of 2012-15 was the latest golden age of Broncos football, we are now in the midst of the dark ages. Denver lost despite giving up only one touchdown. It lost because of an early, haphazard interception and no takeaways. And they lost because their first-round receiver (Jerry Jeudy) dropped five passes (five!) and their journeyman cornerback (De’Vante Bausby) forgot how to tackle.
The Broncos aren’t Jacksonville (14 consecutive losses) or the New York Jets (12 straight losses to start the season) … but they’re close, which is probably the biggest indictment of general manager John Elway’s team-building effort. It feels like the entire franchise is chasing its collective tail.
On Sunday, they were chasing the game. Again. The Broncos have been outscored 195-119 in the first half this year.
The Chargers capitalized on Nasir Adderley’s kick return to start the game to take a 3-0 lead. Already behind, the Broncos marched from their 13 to the Chargers’ 16.
At least they’ll get a field goal, right? Wrong again. On third down, Lock was flushed from the pocket to his left and his pass hit traffic and was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Casey Hayward.
“That’s what we can’t have happen,” Lock said. “I rolled out (and there was a) defender to my left and defender to my right and DaeSean running across my face. I put it between the two defenders closest to me, but it ended up behind DaeSean. It’s a play I just have to throw it away. … That’s one of those plays I have to get out of me.”
More plays like that and Lock won’t have the opportunity to work through them.
“You can’t throw red zone interceptions, especially one where there isn’t much there,” Fangio said. “If you try and hammer one in there and the defense makes a great play, that’s one thing. But if a bad choice is made, that’s another thing.”
The opening drive was emblematic of the entire game offensively.
The Broncos gained 396 yards, their fourth-best output of the year. They crossed midfield seven times. And they converted a combined nine third- and fourth-down opportunities (out of 19).
But once in Chargers’ territory, things happened. Bad things.
Second quarter: The Broncos moved to the 24, but McManus missed a 37-yard field goal, his first misfire from inside 40 yards since 2017.
Third quarter: They took the second-half opening kickoff to the Chargers’ 43, but Melvin Gordon lost a yard and Lock was penalized nine yards for intentional grounding to force a punt.
Third quarter, part 2: Trailing 13-0, the Broncos reached the Chargers’ 12, but Lock was sacked (no gain) and Jeudy dropped a touchdown pass.
Fourth quarter: Down 16-3, the Broncos reached the Chargers’ 31, but two Lock incompletions forced a 50-yard McManus field goal.
Fourth quarter, part 2: A touchdown — Lock’s 1-yard sneak cut the Chargers’ lead to 16-13 with 6:31 remaining.
Fourth quarter, part 3: The Broncos drove to the Chargers’ 37, but follow with a false start penalty and a sack. McManus’ 52-yard field goal tied the game.
“I’m going to say it again and Broncos fans are going to get tired of me saying this: It was probably just the little things,” Lock said. “The little things to regular people watching might be a missed pass by me or a dropped ball or a slip.”
Lock was 24-of-47 passing for 264 yards. The running game, minus Phillip Lindsay, averaged 4.8 yards per attempt. And tight end Noah Fant couldn’t be covered (six catches for 65 yards).
But once the Broncos close the book on 2020, the title should be: “It Was Always Something.” That was certainly the case against the Chargers, who can look forward to building around rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.
“We didn’t finish (those drives), obviously,” Fangio said. “The red zone interception and missed field goal — that’s six points right there, at least. We have to come up with points when you get into the other team’s territory and we obviously didn’t do a good enough job of that today.”
Or this season.