Sometimes there are worse things than a loss in the NFL.
Take Denver’s 21-13 setback to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night.
On the surface, losing a road game on the short week without your stellar head coach isn’t exactly grounds to push the panic button.
But, probe a little deeper and you will see at least a few concerning signs for the reigning Super Bowl champions, including one we all thought would be there from the start after the retirement of Peyton Manning in the offseason and the defection of his heir apparent, Brock Osweiler, in free agency.
The fact that the Broncos raced out to a 4-0 start behind the better-than-expected play of the little-known Trevor Siemian alleviated some of those concerns and pushed them to the back burner, but the pot was still simmering.
The first signs of trouble showed up at Mile High during Week 5 when Siemian was injured and not able to play due to an injury to his non-throwing shoulder.
Atlanta, meanwhile, obeyed the “No Fly Zone” in effect even though its best player, Julio Jones, is a receiver. Instead, Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan looked at the imposing Denver defense and made the prudent decision that attacking Wade Phillips’ linebackers in space was the better way to go.
Without the injured Danny Woodhead, San Diego didn’t have the kind of back to do what Tevin Coleman did to the Broncos four days earlier but they did have the tight ends to do it in a different fashion and hounded the Denver LBs with the athletic Hunter Henry early.
By the time the Broncos adjusted, they were playing catch up, which has been the story all season for the most part.
And that’s not exactly the optimum situation for a team that wants to use the running game and scale things back for a first-time starter at quarterback.
“I think it’s something that we have to address,” Siemian admitted when discussing the shaky starts. “When you look, it’s just one thing here, one thing there. It’s really close. Again, I thought we showed a lot of resilience but it was too little too late, too much to overcome.”
The young QB refused to use his injury as an excuse, though.
“I thought (the shoulder) was fine,” he said. “I didn’t really have any problems with it. It held up for me pretty well.”
The dichotomy between the first and second half was stark for Siemian, as he rarely pushed the football down the field until forced to while facing a 21-3 deficit.
“I think we got behind a little bit early and the combination of Demaryius (Thomas) and Emmanuel (Sanders) might scare some people and they want to keep a lot of things in front of them,” he explained. “That’s just how the game unfolded. Each team plays it a little bit different. Again, it’s tough when you’re down so much, you’re just playing into their favor when you’re dinking the ball like that. I think we’ll get it fixed though, I feel pretty good about that.”
Siemian might feel pretty good but the aura of invincibility that Denver has enjoyed in division, winning an NFL record 15 straight on the road, is now gone. and it was lost not to the ascending Oakland Raiders or even the well-coach Kansas City Chiefs, it was the runt of the AFC West litter, the lowly Chargers.
And it was lost, not to the ascending Oakland Raiders or even the well-coach Kansas City Chiefs, it was dropped to the runt of the AFC West litter, the lowly Chargers.
Meanwhile, whether Kubiak, who is dealing with a severe migraine episode, was there or not will quickly become a footnote.
“It’s tough to tell because you might get a chance to talk to (Kubiak) in between series but he’s got so much going on during the game that for me it’s tough to tell how much of a difference that makes,” Siemian said when discussing his coach’s absence. “I thought (interim head coach) Joe (DeCamillis) did a good job communicating with everybody. He really did a good job with the group.”
In the end, this was more than your average loss because the Broncos reputation took a bit of a hit, a big deal in a league that is a week-to-week proposition and often dependent on emotion.
“This is a tough league and we were playing a tough team,” Siemian said. “We knew that going in. I think the one thing about this team is the resilience and that was a staple of us last year as well. All of those guys in the locker room, the whole game the sense was that we were going to figure it out and get this thing going and make a run at it.”
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America