The Denver Broncos have been a great first half team and an atrocious second half team this season.
That exact scenario played out again on Sunday afternoon as the Broncos had to pull ahead twice in the fourth quarter after leading by two touchdowns in the first quarter.
The Broncos held onto win, but it was only thanks to a bail-out — correct — pass interference call with only three seconds to play in the game. After the Chargers tied the game up at 20-20, Denver had the ball on offense with a mere eight seconds to go. Drew Lock — in his first start — dropped back and uncorked a pass deep to Courtland Sutton, who was interfered with.
That set up Brandon McManus’ 53-yard, game-winning field goal as time expired.
Head coach Vic Fangio said after the win that offensive coaches wanted to kneel the ball and he said to go for it. That, and the fact the offense has been awful in the second half, may point to the fact that Fangio is the right man for the job but Scangarello is not.
A win may be a win, but it was just another in a long line of Broncos games this season in which the team started hot and then faded late. This time, however, they finally held onto win.
The Broncos, who came into the game 3-8 and a sorry excuse for a football team, enjoyed new life on Sunday afternoon because rookie quarterback Lock was starting for the first time. And, Lock was on fire in the first half.
On his first ever drive in the NFL, the Broncos offense went for 12 plays and 80 yards, capped by an amazing catch by Courtland Sutton and the 7-0 lead. Sutton pulled in a deep pass from Lock with one hand while he was interfered with for the score. Sensational.
Later in the first half, thanks to an interception by Dre’Mont Jones, the Broncos offense started with the ball in the Los Angeles red zone, at the 18 yard line. Lock finished that drive with yet another touchdown pass to Sutton, the Broncos’ blossoming star on the offensive end.
But, that’s where Denver’s offensive fairy tale ended.
Lock and the Broncos led 14-0 early and that quickly became 17-10 at halftime. Then, Lock threw for a whole three yards in the third quarter before a crucial drive in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos had been shut out during the previous five games’ fourth quarters, losing late to the Vikings recently, but also to the Colts, Jaguars and Bears this year.
That whole scene played itself out yet again on this December first day, against the division rival Chargers. After leading 14-0, that lead evaporated in the second half as the two teams became tied at 17-17.
Lock’s offense was able to push a drive into Chargers territory and have Brandon McManus drill the 52-yard field goal to take the 20-17 lead with 4:31 to play.
But, the Broncos defense, which has far and away been Denver’s best unit since 2015 when the team won Super Bowl 50, again bent late in the game and allowed Los Angeles to tie the contest up at 20-20 with 14 seconds to play.
That’s when Lock threw the ball up deep, hoping for a penalty as a best-case scenario, and got it.
The Broncos led late against four other teams this year and lost all of those contests, this time, barely being bailed out by the officials and a terrible play by Casey Hayward with three seconds to go.
While the Broncos had 182 yards of offense in the first half, with 17 points, they moved the ball a mere 36 yards in the second half and put a scant six points on the board to barely hold on and win.
Including Sunday’s win over Los Angeles, the Broncos have been outscored 50-6 in the fourth quarter over the last six games. But it goes much deeper than that.
The Broncos are a respectable first half team, ranked 24th at 9.3 points per game, but they are 29th in the NFL in the second half at a mere 6.6 points per. Break it down even further, and the Broncos are 31st in the NFL in fourth-quarter scoring, at a ghastly 3.1 points per game.
The point is: Scangarello needs to prove he’s ready to be an NFL offensive coordinator, to produce in the second half of games when they are on the line. Multiple times this year the Broncos have failed to even gain first downs — against the Colts and Jaguars, most notably — in order to win games.
Lost in the hype of this win may be the fact that it’s Drew Lock’s first start, but what must be noticed by all is the Broncos offense fading in basically every second half this season.