Once again, the Denver Broncos managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, dropping their record to 3-7, and 1-6 over the past seven, and ending any realistic playoff hopes.

How did they get here, and what glimmers of hope can Broncos Country cling to? Let’s look.

Stock Up for the Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos wide receiver Kendall Hinton (9) reaches for the end zone as Las Vegas Raiders safety Duron Harmon (30) tackles in the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High.

Nov 20, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Kendall Hinton (9) reaches for the end zone as Las Vegas Raiders safety Duron Harmon (30) tackles in the first quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Russell Wilson

Russell Wilson played the best game of his Denver Broncos career on Sunday.

He had his best completion percentage of the season, but otherwise, it wasn’t reflected in the stat sheet. He only produced the fouth-most yards per attempt of the season, the third-best passer rating of the season, and failed to throw a touchdown pass for the third time this season.

That said, he looked the most comfortable he has in any game this season. His ball placement was the best it’s been in orange and blue, and he was avoiding sacks, which is something he’s struggled to do all season.

On several occassions, Wilson managed to bail the DenverBroncos out of a bad play and create something. There’s been flashes of that throughout the season, but it was something he could never sustain until this week.

Now, the performance wasn’t perfect.

He opened the third quarter 2-for-4 for six yards, which gets buried in the stat sheet, but is a painful level of inefficiency. That helped open the door for Vegas’ comeback, as the third quarter was, once again, Denver’s worst offensive quarter of the game. There were also still multiple missed receivers downfield, as Wilson appeared to play a more conservative game than what we’ve as of late, but it benefited the offense greatly.

Therein lies the evidence of Wilson’s terrific offensive performance — the overall offensive production.

Some might question that by pointing to the 16 points scored, and while that feels like par for the course, the Denver Broncos arrived at that mark in a very different manner than they have in past weeks.

From Week 3 to Week 10, the Broncos averaged 11.7 non-kneeldown or hail mary possessions per game, and never had fewer than 11 possessions with the potential to score. This was the result of the game having a lot of short drives, and therefore, a lot of punting back and forth. Denver’s defense would force a quick three-and-out, only for the offense to turn around and produce an even faster three-and-out of their own.

On those 11.7 possessions, they generated 12.3 points per game, which means they were generating 1.05 points per drive over that span, which is 20 percent worse than the second-worst scoring offense.

Against the Raiders they generated a mere 16 points, and at face value, that seems like an uptick of just 3.7 points (or 30.1 percent) from where they’ve been over the last two months. In reality, when you factor the number of possessions, they lead from 1.05 points per drive to 1.78 points per drive, an increase of 69.5 percent.

That increase comes despite producing 0 points on a drive that reached Vegas’ one-yard line, thanks to Melvin Gordon and Brandon McManus. If Denver gets a field goal on that drive, they’re at 2.11 points per drive, and a touchdown results in 2.56 points per drive on the day — increases of 101.0 percent and 143.8 percent, respectively.

Russell Wilson helped the Denver Broncos accomplish that leap today without his No. 1 offensive tackle, his No. 2 offensive tackle, his No. 1 center, three of his top four wide receivers, his No. 1 and No. 3 running backs.

Wilson has been the biggest problem for the Broncos for 10 weeks, making the franchise feel doomed by the trade they made to acquire him and the contract they immediately handed over. Today, he showed enough glimpses to suggest he might be able to become part of the solution, and that’s incredibly meaningful for Broncos Country.

Kendall Hinton

It’s been easy to root for Kendall Hinton ever since he fell on the proverbial sword of being the Denver Broncos’ emergency quarterback, in a game he had no hope of winning.

As he cements himself as one of the better and more dependable receivers for the Broncos, rooting for him has only become easier.

After entering the day with just 170 yards on 12 targets, Hinton tallied 57 yards on three receptions (now worth more than 20 percent of his full-season production) and was an offensive catalyst for the team early on. He was inches away from scoring Denver’s only touchdown of the game too, but instead, ultimately set Latavius Murray up for a short touchdown plunge instead.

With Hinton playing like this, it’s fair to wonder why he only saw 12 targets over the first nine weeks.

He continues to make plays and produce at a high level.

He’s averaging 15.1 yards per target. That ranks second on the team to only Jalen Virgil, who scored a 66-yard touchdown on his lone target of the season.

He has to be featured more in this offense.

Damarri Mathis

As crazy as it sounds, Damarri Mathis might’ve been the best cornerback for the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

Some of that is Patrick Surtain II having the worst game of his career against superstar Davante Adams, but a lot of that is Mathis playing at an exceptional level in his own right.

Over 41 coverage snaps, and 37 passing attempts, Damarri Mathis was targeted eight times and only allowed five receptions for 44 yards.

He also allowed just one first down to be converted, and had a remarkable deflection on a deep ball that helped keep Denver alive late.

Most impressive for Mathis though, was his tackling ability. He finished the game with seven solo tackles, the second most on the team, and considering he wasn’t really being picked on in coverage, that’s an impressive feat.

On a night where Jacobs was gashing Denver’s run defense, Mathis made multiple plays that stifled the back.

If Mathis plays like this over the final eight weeks, Paton should have no problem making him the starter opposite Surtain for 2023.

Stock Down for the Denver Broncos

Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson (21) and Denver Broncos guard Quinn Meinerz (77) reach for a fumbled football in the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High.

Nov 20, 2022; Denver, Colorado, USA; Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Amik Robertson (21) and Denver Broncos guard Quinn Meinerz (77) reach for a fumbled football in the second quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Melvin Gordon

The Melvin Gordon situation is emblematic of so many problems that plague the Denver Broncos.

Offensive ineptitude, complete self-destruction, and lack of coaching discipline can all be found within the saga of that one running back.

Starting with the offensive ineptitude, Melvin Gordon has been one of the least effective weapons in the Denver Broncos’ offense — an offense with almost no effective weapons this season, so that’s saying something. Now, today, Gordon was actually pretty productive. Unfortunately, that didn’t come close to outweighing his game-losing mistake.

The complete self-destruction comes in the form of the fumbles, drops, and missed blocks that continue to plague Gordon’s game this year.

No Bronco with more than 12 targets has a higher drop rate than Gordon this season, and his fumbles have cost the team multiple games. He nearly has twice as many fumbles as the next-most fumble-happy running back. He missed a block on a free rusher on a crucial 3rd-and-5 that ended a second-half drive for the Broncos.

The lack of coaching discipline exists in the fact that after this ineptitude, and self-destructive play, Gordon has faced no accountability. He was eventually benched for the Broncos’ game against the Chargers, but after throwing a visible tantrum on primetime television, he was rewarded by getting his starting job handed back to him, despite the fact he was being outproduced by the player who replaced him in the starting lineup.

That was still true today, as he was announced as the team’s starter, and trusted in a pivotal 3rd-and-goal situation. It’s not hard to think that if Latavius Murray gets that carry instead, the Broncos win the game. Murray converted both of the other times he was handed the ball one yard away from said conversion.

Now, we’ll never exist in the alternate reality where Murray gets that carry from the one, and so we’ll never know how the play truly would’ve played out. But it’s hard to deny that the entire flow of the game seemed to shift from that point on. Denver reached scoring range on each of their opening three drives, and then got in scoring range just twice more, over the seven possessions that followed Gordon’s gaffe.

Gordon’s fumble lost this game for the Denver Broncos. His fumble on the one-yard line arguably lost the team their Week 1 battle with the Seahawks. His Week 4 fumble almost certainly lost their first matchup with the Raiders. His two Week 3 fumbles could’ve changed the Broncos’ victory over the 49ers into a loss if either were recovered by the Niners.

That’s two definite losses, one debatable loss, and another game he tried his best to lose. This isn’t normal either. Gordon’s five fumbles comfortably leads all running backs, as no other back has more than three.

With any other running back taking those carries, the Denver Broncos are probably 5-5, and arguably 6-4. Despite how miserable everything with this team has been this season, they could still somehow be in the playoff race, while Josh McDaniels wallows at 1-9, if Melvin Gordon wasn’t this heavy a sandbag.

There’s an old expression about the juice not being worth the squeeze, and it would perfectly capture Gordon’s 2022 season, except it isn’t strong enough. Gordon’s not your standard orange being squeezed.

He’s a dehydrated orange, filled with shards of broken glass, razor blades, and other bits of serrated shrapnel.

There’s no juice coming out of that orange, as he adds nothing to the team.

Cling to his pass protection and receiving ability all you want, he’s below-average relative to the rest of the NFL in both categories, and he isn’t markedly better than the other options on Denver’s roster.

Not only that, but the squeeze has been torturous, as it’s cost the Broncos games and has also led to sideline tantrums and off-field distractions.

If one is to define ‘bad’ as having a negative impact on their team or lacking a positive impact on their team, Melvin Gordon is the worst running back in the NFL.

Cutting him on Monday was the right call.

Denver Broncos defense

Three big factors have to be discussed in regard to the poor performance of the defense today. The porous run defense, the poor safety play, and Patrick Surtain II having the worst game of his career.

In the run game, the Denver Broncos defense was visciously mauled by Josh Jacobs. Jacobs average 4.5 yards per carry, and totaled 160 yards from scrimmage, despite being stopped for a loss or no-gain on 45.8 percent of his carries. That means, on the other 54.2 percent, he feasted.

Jacobs got every carry for the Raiders, and produced a 48.0 percent rushing success rate for them. The worst run defense in the league (the Houston Texans) is allowing a rushing success rate of 47.6 percent on the season.

Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons also had some uncharacteristically rough moments that hurt the team.

Jackson didn’t provide the level of help Surtain was expecting on the first touchdown, as Surtain was playing trail technique with outside leverage, demonstrating the expectation for help inside.

Simmons also misplayed a deep ball, but was bailed out by Mathis.

Finally, we have to discuss Surtain.

Now, Surtain still looks to be the best cornerback in the sport, and the fans turning their backs on him entirely are foolish, but this was still a very rough performance.

Surtain was targeted six times, and allowed five receptions, at a clip of 21.2 yards per reception. The one incompletion was a drop by Davante Adams.

He was also the cornerback in coverage on both of the Raiders’ touchdowns. Now, on the first one he should’ve gotten more help from Jackson, but Surtain still left too big a window. On the second one, he just got beat bad, and Vegas walked off with a W.

As a result of all this, the defense allowed 2.2 points per possession this week, to dig that metric back up.

Over that aforementioned eight week stretch from Weeks 3-10, the defense allowed 1.5 points per drive. That’s a decline of 46.7 percent.

Montrell Washington

Washington had a couple of good returns on Sunday, but he continues to hurt the team with over-aggression and poor decision-making.

After the catch-point on the return, Washington still looks like a quality return man. However, prior to that catch-point, he might be one of the worst returners in the league right now.

Now, there’s no database this columnist can find to support that point, but doesn’t it seem like Washington makes the wrong decision on what to do with the punt all too frequently?

He’ll decide to call a fair catch when it looks like he should’ve let the ball bounce. Then, he’ll let the ball bounce, and it’ll come to a stop at Denver’s five-yard line. Then, he’ll decide to take the kickoff out of the endzone, and it’ll only go for 10 yards.

It’s a problem that has crippled the Broncos’ starting field position.

Denver had better-than-touchback (25-yard line) field position on just two of their 10 possessions. Meanwhile, they started inside their own 15 on three of their 10 possessions.

On the five kickoffs Denver returned, they never had field position better than being on their own 25, and they started inside the 20 three times.

Washington has gone from looking like the Denver Broncos’ best rookie to not looking worth his draft pick. He has to show improvement in his decision-making.