DENVER— At one point, the Broncos had too few men on the field. At another, they had too much.
They had two late game penalties – on field goal attempts. They committed three false start offenses — at home, where the crowd doesn’t try to break the decibels before the slams. They followed a 12-penalty game with a 13-flag afternoon, racking up more penalties in two games than ever before in the team’s 62-year history.
They settled for two field goals in a pair of home and away trips after extracting only one field goal from three goal-go scenarios last week.
Oh, and the Broncos beat the Houston Texans, 16-9.
This game lacked the endgame drama — and snafu — that last week’s loss to Seattle had. But the Broncos burned all three second-half timeouts before the fourth quarter was over, one of which came when they had no punt return on the field.
Houston needs to mean Nathaniel Hackett’s Broncos are one game away from good management and execution of their game.
Because otherwise, the high expectations of this season will turn into hard times faster than it takes to send a game. Which, by the way, takes even longer than the Bronco would like.
Several times on Sunday, the crowd booed.
The Broncos were expecting a cascade of boos when they traveled to Seattle last week. They hadn’t quite expected him to come to their house. The mistakes exhausted the patience of Broncos fans after just one game.
“I don’t blame them,” Hackett said after the game. “I was booing myself. It’s frustrating.”
“Frustrating” only begins to describe some of the errors. Take late game penalties, for example. The Broncos’ fourth such offense this season erased a 54-yard field goal from Brandon McManus in the third quarter.
If Hackett wasn’t counting the playing time in his head in the fourth quarter, he needn’t have worried. In the fourth quarter, the fans had that covered as well.
In a scene that looked more like something from Duke’s Cameron indoor stadium, Broncos fans – loudly – counted the seconds on the game clock repeatedly in the fourth quarter.
“It made us aware. I don’t think Russell [Wilson] you will have to watch the [play] clock over. We made it,” running back Melvin Gordon said.
“But it was different. I’ve never had that before. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing or what it is. But let’s see if they keep doing it.
Point striker Randy Gregory added: “I saw him, but not in this situation. I don’t know if they were right to do that. We tried to calm them down.
“But that’s how it is. They’re here to have fun. It’s our job as a team, as an offense, to run our business.
Can you blame the fans? The Broncos already have twice as many late game offenses as they did in the entire 2021 season. Their tally of four would be acceptable for an entire year. In fact, that was their total for the season in 2018 and 2020.
Denver fans expect better. They came to Empower Field at Mile High anticipating greatness. They left like star wars fans after watching “The Phantom Menace” – some angry, others trying to convince themselves that what they saw wasn’t so bad.
At least it won’t be three years until the next chapter, 36 months of trying to rationalize midicholorians and Darth Maul’s underutilization.
But what’s true is that the juggernaut some hoped would see from the Broncos after five straight losing seasons isn’t there. Right now, the Broncos are a phantom menace, indeed.
They will have to become a real one quickly.
25 penalties in two weeks – the most in two games in Broncos history.
Three false start penalties… again.
Two late game penalties… again. And somehow, both on placekicks. I didn’t even mention burning a timeout before a punt return. pic.twitter.com/XnI2w9UQLq
— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) September 19, 2022
It wasn’t just about false starts and delay of game violations, although they were perhaps the most infuriating because of their control. Denver finished the day with 13 penalties – tied for seventh in franchise history.
The Dozen Bakers tracked a dozen breaches last week. According to data compiled on pro-football-reference.com, the Broncos’ 25 penalties are the most in two games in club history.
Denver is also only the ninth team since at least 1940 to start a season with at least 25 penalties accepted in its first two games.
“We’re going to make it really tough if we continue the pre-snap penalties and the things we can control,” wide receiver Kendall Hinton said. “So I think that’s a lesson we’re going to take.”
Now here’s the silver lining – those other teams with 25 penalties in their first two games haven’t all gone bad. In fact, out of these eight clubs, four of them have improved by at least four wins in previous seasons.
So that doesn’t mean the end.
But that means the Broncos have a lot to fix.
In the aftermath of the repeated self-defenestration, the Broncos had to scratch and claw to survive against a team that, for the fifth time in its last nine road games, failed to score a touchdown. .
Away from Houston, Texans have more power outages than their home state during cold spells. The Texans averaged 10.8 offensive points per game on the road last year; Denver’s defense overcame the absences of Justin Simmons and Josey Jewell and the loss of Pat Surtain to a shoulder injury to keep the Texans’ grid from generating much power.
The Broncos can consider themselves lucky that even though their offense fails, they played against two teams with offenses that appear to be stuck on the launch pad. The Broncos certainly played a part in that.
Denver probably won’t find itself in such a favorable position next Sunday against the 49ers. Sixteen points and a dozen penalties for a third straight game looks likely to leave the Broncos at 1-2.
And finally, this: A few members of the Colorado Avalanche watched the game. The Broncos honored them in a first-quarter timeout. The Avs bathed in sunshine and yet another tribute to their thrilling Stanley Cup weekend.
And then the Broncos took over the field and did all the little things wrong.
“Cleaning up the little things like penalties, ending up in the red zone – once we’ve done those things – and we’re going to do those things – it’s going to be a pretty scary sight,” tight end Eric Saubert said.
For now, the only scary thing is the timing and game management issues.
But at least the Broncos are 1-1.
So after this victory, turn off the lights, take the Broncos home to the UCHealth training center and let them sleep. And then they have to spend the next few days getting back to basics.
Because if they can’t handle the little things well under their control, they won’t be able to function when big things beyond their control inevitably go wrong.