DENVER — The Denver Broncos have officially turned the clock back to one of the franchise’s most difficult periods, the year late owner Pat Bowlen had referred to on occasion simply as “that season.”
That season also included the knee injury that troubled running back Terrell Davis for the remainder of his playing career, a season long considered by many of the Broncos’ faithful as the most disappointing and difficult of the past three decades. The Broncos haven’t won since Week 13 of the 2018 season — a 24-10 victory in Cincinnati that pushed them to 6-6, but they lost their last four games to finish 6-10.
Sunday’s loss came on Josh Lambo‘s 33-yard field goal on the game’s last play. It’s already the second game this season that the Broncos have lost on the last play.
Buy: Linebacker Von Miller. Sacks make Miller go, Miller’s sacks make the Broncos the defense go, and on Sunday, Miller registered his first two sacks of the season — both in the first half. The sacks were the 99th and 100th regular-season sacks of his career, as Miller is the fourth fastest player — at 124 games — to 100 sacks in league history.
Only Reggie White (96 games), DeMarcus Ware (113 games) and Bruce Smith (115 games) reached 100 sacks more quickly. White and Smith are Hall of Famers. Traditionally, Miller has clustered sacks, often in consecutive multisack games, and Sunday’s effort was the kind of game Miller’s teammates say usually leads to more.
Troubling trend: Getting shoved around on defense is never going to work well, even in these pass-happy times. And the bottom line is when the Jaguars wanted to get themselves back in the game Sunday, they bulked up and got after it in the run game — Leonard Fournette already had 178 yards rushing at the end of the third quarter, and he finished with 225 rushing yards. In particular, the Jaguars pounded away at the Broncos’ nickel package (five defensive backs) at key times, including an 81-yard jaunt by Fournette late in the third quarter.
It will certainly be something others take a look at moving forward, especially given Broncos inside linebacker Josey Jewell left Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury, an injury he had already missed practice time with in the days leading up to Sunday’s game. In the end, the Jaguars had four scoring drives of at least 68 yards, including a soul-crushing 16-play, 10-plus-minute drive to open the second half.
QB breakdown: At times, quarterback Joe Flacco looked as comfortable as can be in the Broncos’ scheme, such as when he had 197 yards passing with two touchdowns late in the first half. And at others, he seemed unsettled, such as when pass-rushers got on the front porch and the Broncos’ crossing routes were out of the equation.
He had just 6 yards passing in the third quarter, and his interception near the end of the first half changed the complexion of the game. He almost saved the day with a composed “been there, done that” drive in the closing minutes, but the second half had largely been a struggle before that.
Pivotal play: Take your pick — that Flacco interception, which came with 49 seconds left in the first half with the Broncos leading 17-3. Or a roughing-the-passer call on Miller on the Jaguars’ game-winning possession that gave them the boost they needed.
On Flacco’s pick, the Broncos were in first-and-10 at the Jacksonville 33-yard line. Flacco’s pass sailed high and Emmanuel Sanders reacted as if he didn’t know if the ball was intended for another receiver, as the ball sailed over him. And everything that had gone right before that play didn’t really go right after it, as the Broncos showed the earmarks of a struggling team when they couldn’t rebound after a mistake.
Miller’s penalty was a reprieve, and much like a roughing call on Bradley Chubb in Week 2’s loss to the Chicago Bears, it gave an opponent just enough extra yardage to make a game-winning kick happen.