Broncos collapse in make-or-break game of the year against Chiefs

Vance Joseph. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.
Vance Joseph. Credit: Isaiah J. Downing, USA TODAY Sports.

The Denver Broncos are who we thought they were. Mediocre-at-best.

That starts from the top-down — from the lack of a true owner, to the front office and on down to the coaching staff led by a lost Vance Joseph — and this season will end up playing out much like last year.

But it didn’t have to.

Tonight was a make-or-break game for the Denver Broncos, at home, in a raucous Mile High Stadium against arguably the team’s biggest rivals in the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. Few people gave the home team a chance to win on Monday night, and yet, the blueberry Broncos actually led the unbeaten Chiefs 13-10 at halftime.

It was the first time all year Kansas City didn’t score on their first drive, the first time they trailed at halftime and the first time their young phenom of a quarterback in Patrick Mahomes didn’t throw for a touchdown. Through three quarters, the looks in some of the Chiefs’ offensive linemen’s eyes were scared of that first defeat, humbled by the noise at Mile High.

But the fourth-quarter collapse — in which Denver allowed 172 yards and two touchdowns while being held to a mere 94 yards — is a sign of things to come, and things of the past all at once.

The Broncos were set up to win this game. They led 23-13 when the fourth quarter began, but couldn’t hold on, against their rivals, at home. In a crucial, interdivisional game.

And yet, they allowed the Chiefs to go wild — with two touchdowns and that massive, 172 yards and five first downs — in the key, game-deciding fourth quarter.

In fact, it’s only Week 4 in the NFL season, but that fourth quarter may end up being season-deciding for Denver.

The Broncos started this year at 2-0, thanks to some miraculous, fourth-quarter comebacks by Case Keenum and the otherwise lackluster Broncos offense.

Then, they lost to a solid Baltimore Ravens team last week on the road, 27-14, before losing 27-23 to the 4-0 Chiefs who looked very beatable tonight in the Mile High City. Now, with Kansas City ahead at 4-0, the Broncos are back tied for second with the Los Angeles Chargers at 2-2. It’s early, but good luck to Denver when it comes to making up that ground to the Chiefs.

Simply, it was a lost opportunity for the Broncos with the win handed to them on a platter. The Broncos lacked leadership when it mattered most, in the pivotal fourth quarter, when they needed a mere two-to-three first downs to ice the game, up three points.

Instead, Denver couldn’t gain a single yard, punting the ball back to Kansas City with 4:35 to go and 60 yards to the end zone. Don’t miss the fact that it was a terrible, 35-yard punt by Marquette King, too, when the game was on the line.

Then, the defense folded like a house of cards, no doubt tired from the Chiefs running rampant on them in that final frame of the game.

What does this game teach us about the Denver Broncos?

That they’re desperate; that hook-and-ladder on 4th and 11 to end the game was gusty and not smart. Sutton gained the first down if he just goes down instead of pitching the ball. This game proved that Denver doesn’t know how to hold onto a two-score lead in the final quarter of the game. And, it was an utter collapse by all three phases of the game; offense, defense and special teams.

These kinds of collapses only happen to teams who are severely lacking leadership, which the Broncos showed in their obvious 13 penalties last week, and showed in the lack of killer instinct or playing with discipline this week.

Last season, the Broncos finished 5-11 and out of the playoffs for the second straight year. This year, they’ll be lucky to end the season 8-8 the way they’ve started this season. That falls on Vance Joseph, who regularly says the team improves every week in practice, but it’s rarely seen on the gridiron.

Denver didn’t have to be subjected to that fate, though. Yes, John Elway should’ve fired Joseph after the disastrous 2017 season, sure. But win this game and the Broncos are tied for the lead of the AFC West with 12 games to go. Instead, it’s an uphill climb to the mountain top, and we all know football is a game of momentum.

The way the Broncos are trending, 5-11 is a real possibility this year, too.