The Denver Broncos had a chance to upset the NFL’s hottest team in front of a national audience on Monday Night Football, and yet, they lost 27-23.
The Kansas City Chiefs entered the game as heavy favorites after a dynamic start to their 3-0 season. Still, the Broncos kept up with the Chiefs through three and a half quarters, leading by ten points with less than ten minutes to go. The defense, who had played admirably in the first three quarters, finally gave out.
The Broncos defense simply crumbled in the later parts of the fourth quarter. It wasn’t necessarily one player or one play that overwhelmed the team, but a combination of questionable defensive play-calling that sunk the Broncos chances of keeping up with the Chiefs in the race for the AFC West. With a two-possession lead and less than ten minutes to go in the game, the defense should have shut the door on a Chiefs comeback. Instead, the Broncos are once again searching for answers on how to get back to the top of the AFC West.
Entering the game, Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce had abused the Broncos defense with three straight 100 receiving yard games. The Broncos had done a fantastic job containing Kelce early, using safety Justin Simmons and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. to slow Kelce down. In the fourth quarter, the Broncos defense suddenly switched to man-to-man coverage, leaving inside linebacker Brandon Marshall to cover Kelce one-on-one. Arguably the best tight end in the NFL, Kelce naturally won the matchup, finishing the game with a team-high seven catches for 78 yards and the touchdown that put the Chiefs within three points of the Broncos’ lead.
Denver also failed to generate a consistent pass rush towards the later stages of the contest on Monday night. While the Broncos blitzed Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes often, they were rarely able to wrap up the elusive playmaker. As a result, the Broncos finished with just one sack on the evening. The blue and orange failed to create opportunities for their pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb in a similar way they had in the first half. The defense also failed to produce any turnovers.
Too often, the Broncos overloaded one side of the offensive line with a trio of pass rushers and drop the opposite side of their defense into coverage. That allowed Mahomes to easily scramble away from the oncoming pass rush.
Using his legs to extend the play, Mahomes was able to wait for a play to develop. The Broncos began the game finding ways to rattle Mahomes, but as it progressed, Mahomes began to settle in and expose the Broncos secondary as the defensive play-calling became more timid.
In addition to another fantastic game by Mahomes, Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt also ran wild over a Broncos defense that failed to contain the ground game early. Unable to get off the field, the Broncos defense was gassed towards the end of the fourth quarter, which allowed Hunt to pinball his way for the go-ahead touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.
The Broncos now fall to 2-2 on the year, at a crossroads on where the season could go from here. A talented Broncos defensive front needs to find a way to close out games using their strengths or this team could end up below .500 again.