The Denver Broncos, along with the Philadelphia Eagles, lost their undefeated record this Sunday. This is a bigger deal for the defending Super Bowl champs, as it is their first loss in nine games. That means the last time they lost, Peyton Manning was still putting pads on and trying to fit a helmet over his head. Both teams lost at the hands of their rookie quarterbacks, but that’s more of an coincidence than a correlation.
Paxton Lynch got his first start against the Falcons at Mile High Stadium. All eyes were on the 22-year-old, who wasn’t terrible but his efforts just were not enough. Lynch threw for 223 yards on 23 for 35 attempts, with one touchdown and one interception. This wasn’t too far off from Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan’s return of 267 yards on 15 for 28 attempts with one touchdown.
— uSTADIUM (@uSTADIUM) October 2, 2016
The offensive failure isn’t entirely Lynch’s fault. Starting right tackle Donald Stephenson is out with a calf injury, and the Broncos run game only got 84 yards on 24 carries. The offensive line was playing so bad that starting right tackle Ty Sambrailo had to be benched in the fourth quarter for his inability to stop defenders.
Lynch was sacked six times and the Broncos offensive was just plain rough on Sunday. Atlanta isn’t even a strong defensive team – it even ranks as one of the NFL’s worst. Before their game against the Broncos, they only had four sacks. With the help of Vic Beasley, the Falcons got six sacks in a single game.
What killed the Broncos was their scoreless quarters and inability to hold the Falcons offense away from field goal territory. Denver was able to keep Julio Jones to zero catches in the first two quarters, but what ultimately exposed Denver’s defense was Atlanta’s running backs.
With 122 yards on 32 carries, the Falcons were able to put their kicker within range to add on to their lead. Combine that with allowing 180 receiving yards for the Falcons, this was not a Super Bowl-calibre defense. Even with a forced fumble from T.J. Ward in the second half, it doesn’t seem as if the Broncos defense showed up.
Although the spotlight is on the Broncos for losing, how about Atlanta’s offense this season? They’ve only lost to one team this season, oddly enough the only team Tampa Bay Buccaneers has beaten, and their 23-16 win over Denver was their lowest-scoring game yet. Denver is also known for its lockdown defense, which gives credit to the aggressive Atlanta Falcon offense.
— Peyton Manning Fans (@PeytonManningFC) October 10, 2016
It was clear thing were going south for the Broncos when the Falcons got a 10-0 first quarter lead, but there was always a feeling that Paxton and the Broncos would warm up. Then they landed a field goal in the second quarter and the 13-3 deficit didn’t seem too bad. But yet another scoreless quarter for the Broncos put them in a 20-3 uphill battle that they could just not win. The Falcons ended up with 372 yards, while Denver only had 267.
The loss should be alarming for the Broncos’ coaches and players. If the Falcons can steamroll what was thought to be one of the best defenses with ease, then a repeat Super Bowl seems unlikely for Denver.
All the Broncos have to do now is to study tape during their short turnaround and meet the San Diego Chargers with the steely defense we’ve been used to watching.
Lynch still looks promising: he’s young, he’s got his first loss under his belt, and he’s not throwing interceptions left and right. If the Broncos offensive line can go back to giving him the space and time he needs, I’m sure Paxton will develop into a much better quarterback and the Broncos will get back on track.