In Week 7, the Denver Broncos couldn’t shake the big brother/little brother dynamic the team has established with the Kansas City Chiefs over the last five-plus seasons. Despite all the best-laid plans of GM John Elway, the Broncos proved that they were no closer to contending with the Chiefs, and arguably as far away as ever.
That’s what the litmus test revealed in the Broncos’ 43-16 loss. Who were the biggest winners and losers? It was a loss, so we’ll start with this game’s losers.
Loser: Drew Lock | QB
There seems to be some sort of emotional block for Lock when it comes to playing the Chiefs, perhaps stemming from all of his family’s past history and being a native of greater-Kansas City. Whatever the explanation, he played his worst game as a pro in Week 7.
The second-year QB was inaccurate, skittish, and displayed horribly inconsistent footwork. Adding insult to injury, Lock did not protect the ball, throwing two interceptions, one of which was a pick-six.
All in, Lock finished 24-of-40 for 254 yards, with no touchdowns, though he did pick up the first rushing score of his career. The kid has to be better, and resolved after the game to do so.
There’s no getting around it, though. Lock was bad and one of the perpetrators of the Broncos’ pandemic of self-inflicted wounds.
Loser: Melvin Gordon | RB
Gordon returned to action after missing last week with strep throat and promptly coughed the ball up twice. One was a true fumble while the other was a botched flea-flicker where he tossed the ball back to Lock, sailing it over the QB’s outstretched arms.
Gordon ran hard and wasn’t terrible but his two turnovers were key. He now has three lost fumbles on the season.
Loser: Brandon McManus | K
After earning AFC player-of-the-week recognition in two straight games, McManus wasn’t nearly as consistent in Week 7. He missed an extra point on the Broncos’ first touchdown of the game, failed to kick the ball out of the end zone on a kick-off that was returned 102 yards to the house, and botched an on-sides kick at midfield that was returned 21 yards.
McManus did nail on 43-yard field goal, kicking into the wind. But it was far from a good day at the office for the veteran kicker.
I’d throw special teams coordinator Tom McMahon in as a sub-loser under McManus. Too many third-phase snafus from the Broncos for McMahon to go unmentioned in this article.
Loser: KJ Hamler | WR
Hamler made a few nice plays in his first action since Week 3, finishing with 34 yards from scrimmage, two of which were receptions. The only target he didn’t haul in, though, was a slant that was thrown on his back hip by Lock, which was bobbled, popped up into the air, and picked off by Tyrann Mathieu.
Loser: Shelby Harris | DL
Harris played a solid game, getting some pressure on Patrick Mahomes at times. But his ill-advised unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in garbage time, which gave the Chad Henne-led Chiefs’ offense a new set of downs on the goal-line, led to an easy touchdown.
Getting chippy with head coach Vic Fangio on the sideline following the series was a bad look for Harris, though he did try to smooth things over in the court of public opinion afterwards. Frustrations boiled over but Harris set a terrible example for his younger teammates and insubordination is a stinky cologne when your team is getting blown out.
Loser: Justin Simmons | S
Simmons’ up-and-down campaign continued as he made the notebook for all the wrong reasons. Missing an open-field tackle on Tyreek Hill on the goal-line wasn’t what the Broncos hoped to see from their franchise-tagged safety.
Loser: Pat Shurmur | OC
Too often this year, Shurmur has made it into the loser’s column. He wasn’t terrible in Week 7, as the Broncos’ 411 total yards were the offense’s most in nearly two calendar years, but his situational play-calling was horrendous.
Shurmur was predictable and too often, made what was already a tall task all the harder for his young QB. The Broncos’ inability to move the chains on third down is perhaps the most damning for Shurmur.
Once again, Denver struggled on the money down, finishing 5-of-14 (36%). The Broncos are a bottom-5 team on third down, which, combined with the offense’s poor red-zone efficiency and penchant for turning the ball over, is a recipe for disaster.
Going away from a productive running game at odd times on drives, totally sapping the offense of its momentum and telegraphing to the opponent what was coming, was near-unforgivable for a coordinator with Shurmur’s experience. The offensive coordinator needs more time to gel with Lock but he’s not putting his young QB in the best position possible to succeed.
Winner: Phillip Lindsay | RB
Lindsay exited the game with a concussion towards the end of the second quarter but he was lights-out up until then. Despite missing more than half the game, he led the Broncos with 79 yards rushing on nine carries.
Lindsay has proven that this offense should flow through him, outshining Gordon by leaps and bounds as a runner. The problem, though, and this speaks to the ‘cons’ on his undrafted scouting report, is his durability.
Lindsay missed weeks early this season with a turf-toe injury and now will have to pass through concussion protocol, which could cost him Week 8. The best ability is avail-ability but Lindsay shouldn’t have to prove to anyone the playmaker that he is and how crucial he is to this offense.
Winner: Albert Okwuegbunam | TE
Okwuegbunam tied fellow tight end Noah Fant for the team lead in targets, but the difference between the two was that the rookie hauled in all seven of his. Okwuegbunam finished with seven receptions for 60 yards, leading the team in receiving yardage.
Undoubtedly, the bond and chemistry between Lock and Albert O. is real and one of the few good things I can say about Shurmur’s body of work in Week 7 was his utilization of multiple tight ends in the offense. Tight ends received 17 receptions on Sunday for 123 yards from scrimmage.
Winner: Malik Reed | OLB
Reed became just the sixth Bronco to notch at least two sacks in back-to-back games since sacks became an official statistic in 1982. Doing so against an elusive QB like Patrick Mahomes only adds to the accomplishment.
I’m not sure Jeremiah Attaochu, when he gets healthy, should get his starting job back. Not with how well Reed is playing.
Winner: Bradley Chubb | OLB
The Broncos’ edge rushers were on-point on Sunday. Chubb sacked Mahomes and held the point of attack, totaling two tackles (one solo) on the day.
Chubb is definitely back to form and his passion on the sideline, galvanizing his teammates in the face of another crushing loss to Kansas City, was honestly good to see. The Broncos need the young players to lead and Chubb did just that.
Winner: Dre’Mont Jones | DL
In his first game since Week 2, Jones was activated in order to help the Broncos created interior pressure on Mahomes. The second-year lineman obliged, posting his first sack of the season.
Jones is a player Mile High Huddle tapped as a breakout candidate for 2020 and 10 games remain for him to do so.
Winner: Alexander Johnson | LB
Johnson was quintessential in the Broncos mostly keeping Kansas City’s rushing attack in check. He finished with nine tackles (seven solo), leading the team once again.
There was that one missed tackle on Clyde Edwards-Helaire’s touchdown run, but it was a comedy of errors as three Broncos bounced off each other at once, allowing the built-like-an-outhouse running back to bowl forward to pay-dirt.
Winner: Broncos’ O-Line
Dalton Rinser was active and started at left guard. That seemed to give the Broncos’ O-line some courage because this unit dominated on the ground.
The Broncos allowed three sacks but a couple of them were on the QB or and one was a coverage sack. The starting five’s crowning achievement, if you can say that about a unit in a loss, was the 177 rushing yards produced in a bitterly-cold snow game vs. a stout opponent.
The Broncos averaged 5.4 yards per rush on 33 attempts. Hats off to Mike Munchak’s crew. The offensive line seems to be hitting its stride.