The irony of the Broncos‘ run to Super Bowl 50 was it happened despite Peyton Manning, not because of him. Manning shattered records for Denver when he was playing at his second peak, post neck surgery, but outside of three incredible years from No. 18, Denver has had a quarterback problem under John Elway. That was exacerbated on Monday night, when Trevor Siemian and the Broncos offense sputtered against the Chiefs and wasted another impressive effort from the Denver defense.
Siemian, somehow, was not benched by Vance Joseph in the ugly effort, which dropped the Broncos to 3-4. The win thrust the Chiefs, at 6-2, into cruise control for the AFC West, while putting them in contention for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and tying them with New England and Pittsburgh.
Elway is not opposed to making drastic maneuvers; after Monday, it feels like the Broncos need one. Siemian looked good through the first few weeks of the season, but he has cratered.
His first pick was an inexplicable shorty to Marcus Peters, who he probably shouldn’t be targeting in the first place.
His second pick was a wobbly arm punt.
And his final pick of the night was one of the worst decision/throw combos you’ll see. Running and throwing across your body the other way is dangerous in high school football. It’s suicide in the NFL.
The loss and pressure and struggles weren’t entirely on Siemian. Menelik Watson was obliterated all evening by Justin Houston, who finished with a pair of sacks. Siemian was under fire much of the game and probably felt like he needed to force some throws.
But the problem is the Broncos only wanted an offense that didn’t kill them. They have a championship-level defense and simply need to protect the ball and generate two or three scores per game. They couldn’t do it Monday, with a fairly meaningless touchdown keeping them within 10 points.
Maybe there’s not a drastic, fix-it-quick move. Brock Osweiler is what happens if you break glass. Everyone forgets to tell you that when you break glass you have a bunch of broken glass. Paxton Lynch was taken No. 26 overall two years ago, but he couldn’t beat out Siemian and he’s been injured. It’s hard to imagine them throwing Lynch in the fire against the Eagles defense on the road.
So, the status quo. Here’s the problem with that: Denver is about to play the Eagles (7-1), Patriots (6-2), Bengals (meh) and Raiders (divisional road game). These next four weeks will define their season, and they have to do it with an offense that’s entirely flustered and without a clear-cut solution.
It’s very possible we look back at the last two years of the Broncos’ run and wonder what was left on the table for this defense because of the quarterback situation.
Andy Reid got cute
There is no doubt that Andy Reid is one of the smartest offensive minds to ever grace a sideline. He is an innovative mind who has helped to turn Kansas City into an explosive offensive unit. But there is also no doubt that he can often get a little too cute.
Reid did just that in the first quarter against Denver on Monday at a really dumb time. The Chiefs were leading 14-0, had just picked off Trevor Siemian and were in the red zone, facing an opportunity to end the division race by punching the ball in and taking a three-touchdown lead against a struggling offense.
Naturally Big Red put Tyreek Hill in the backfield and had him run a halfback toss. It didn’t end well.
A hallmark of the Chiefs’ offense this year has been not turning the ball over. This was the first turnover for Kansas City since Kareem Hunt fumbled on his first career carry. And it was the Chiefs’ first interception on the season. Which means …
Maybe save the cute stuff for when you’re not trying to slam the door on a divisional opponent. Or at least tell Hill he can throw it away.
It feels silly to lead the Chiefs discussion here criticizing what Kansas City did in a home division win on prime time. And they deserve credit for winning against a really good defense. But the kill shot was there — the Chiefs went about a weird way of trying to take it and ultimately let Denver back in the game.
Giving the Chiefs credit
If I don’t do this, it would be unfair, and Chiefs fans would yell at me. So let’s give the Chiefs credit: they did enough offensively to win this game. Travis Kelce was outstanding as usual, and Alex Smith didn’t throw any interceptions.
The Broncos sort of locked things down late and forced Harrison Butker — who has been incredible as a rookie, banging home 18 consecutive field goals on the season — to hit kick after kick after kick. If he doesn’t, the Chiefs are probably in trouble and this game is much closer.
Smith admitted it was not a pretty game, but did not seem to care.
“I mean, yeah, I wasn’t totally expecting it to be [pretty] — two really good teams, division game, a lot on the line,” Smith said in the postgame on-field interview on ESPN. “One of the best defenses in the NFL. We played good team football tonight.”
That sort of win shouldn’t be surprising. This Chiefs team can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, getting heat off the edge with Justin Houston and letting Marcus Peters lock down No. 1 wideouts. They are a complete team, even if they aren’t a juggernaut. They remain more explosive than in previous years.
It would be a stunner if they aren’t a top-three seed in the AFC by the end of the season, and top-two seed should be in play with the Patriots and Steelers having to play one another.
Maybe “sleeper” isn’t the right way to define Marcus Peters, because he’s just a monster in terms of what he can do as a ballhawk. But he deserves praise as a possible Defensive Player of the Year candidate at the midway point.
The cornerback basically doomed the Broncos from the get-go by pulling off a scoop-and-score situation out of the gate for Kansas City.
That promptly ended the Jamaal Charles Revenge Game in very quick fashion.
And Peters added the interception mentioned above to his numbers. Peters has been pouring it on lately, putting people on lockdown over the last three games (this tweet is from halftime):
There are a few pretty good options for DPOY at midseason and Peters qualifies.
The Broncos, as noted, are in a desperate position if they want to keep their playoff hopes alive. The previously dangerous AFC West looks like a one-horse division, with Denver/Oakland/Los Angeles all sitting under .500. Denver gets the Eagles on the road (early game on the East Coast) before hosting the Patriots and Bengals and then playing in Oakland.
The Chiefs just caught a very lucky break and might be about to rip off some wins. They catch the Cowboys, who will likely be missing Ezekiel Elliott after on Monday, in Dallas next week. Then they get their bye, followed by home games against the Giants and Bills before a road trip to play the Jets. 10-2 is in play, as they host the Raiders and Chargers after that.