Do you remember that Broncos team whose 2019 season was doomed from the start due to an inability to finish matches, particularly at Mile High?
The Broncos of 2020 are getting off to the same daunting start, again in their home stadium.
Unable to do anything on two offensive rides to put Tennessee away at Mile High on Monday night, the Broncos conceded a 25-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski with 17 seconds to go, allowing the Titans to escape with a 16-14 victory.
Gostkowski had missed his first three field goal attempts and his only point after kick until his winning kick.
Starting at their own 10-yard line with 3:05 remaining, the Titans made their way through the field with eight, nine, five and 11 yards gains, to the Broncos ’49, at 1:58. At that point, Inside linebacker Alexander Johnson blitzed to force a Ryan Tannehill incompleteness, but the next action asked rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia for pass interference (14 yards).
The Titans played three more times to score Gostkowski’s field goal.
The Broncos lost their opener for the second consecutive year and are now on a schedule with three of the next four on the road. A year ago they lost three leads in the last 30 seconds.
However, it should never have happened that the Titans had to be stopped on the last run.
The landing of Melvin Gordon’s 1-yard touchdown with 9:08 remaining capped a nine-yard, 75-yard drive. But the Broncos failed to milk their two subsequent possessions with a one-point lead in the clock, giving Tennessee one last chance. Give a playoff-tested team like the Titans hope and they will eventually capitalize … which they did.
The Broncos lost the game and two starters – cornerback A.J. Bouye (shoulder) and back Phillip Lindsay (foot) in the first half.
Tennessee took a 13-7 lead over Jonnu Smith’s one-yard touchdown catch (in fourth place) with 13:49 over. At the time, the Titans’ attack had carried out 40 of scrimmage’s previous 48 plays.
The Broncos defense had probably been gassed and needed the offense to stay on the field and build on the lead. What it did.
The pit of the second and third quarters (four drives, no points) was replaced with a nine-play, 75-yard play. Gordon won 25 meters. Jerry Jeudy had a 21 meter catch. Tim Patrick made a fast 15 meter slope. And Royce Freeman, a substitute for an injured Phillip Lindsay, won 12 on a pass to the left.
Two plays later, Gordon cut his way through traffic for his first touchdown in his Broncos debut.
The Broncos defense, so long on the field in the second half, rebelled with a three-and-out possession, including filling up Titans’ quarterback Ryan Tannehill on a third-and-1 sneak.
The Broncos’ next run used just 2 minutes, 27 seconds of playing time, and Tennessee got the football back on its 4-yard line and 4:47 over.
The defense forced another three-and-out, but the offense couldn’t keep the clock up as Jeudy’s second fall of the match led to another kick.
Tennessee’s winning drive was 12 plays and 83 yards.
The teams traded kicks to start the game, playing for 500 friends and family of Broncos players / coaches / staff. Characteristic of the Broncos’ attack in the first half, they hurt themselves – after a 17-yard catch by Noah Fant, quarterback Drew Lock tried to keep Lloyd Cushenberry’s exchange in the middle to stop the momentum.
The Titans’ kick problems started on their second drive when Gostkowski went from 47 yards and the Broncos took advantage with a 10-play, 63-yard drive to take a 7-0 lead on Lock’s nine-yard touchdown pass to Fant . Previously in possession, Lock turned down a third-and-2 (three-yard scramble) and the Broncos then won 23 yards on Lindsay’s 10-yard carry and Titans linebacker Rashaan Evans’ personal foul – he was ejected for making a strike at tight end Jake Butt.
On the touchdown, Lock bought time (4.39 seconds) on a correct roll before throwing back to the center to Fant.
The Broncos’ first turnover, Gordon’s fumble after a reception, led to Tennessee’s first touchdown. Derrick Henry won 11 against the Broncos’ 3 and two plays later Tannehill found a tight ending to MyCole Pruitt for a one-yard touchdown.
The Broncos looked equally efficient and explosive in the ensuing possession and were ready to take the lead. Fant had catches of 16 and 31 meters and Lindsay a reception of 11 meters for the Titans’ 2.
But on four shots from the 2-yard line, the Broncos won one stinky yard. Lindsay 1-yard rush. Lock knocked over Nick Vannett in the end zone. Gordon was packed without making a profit. And in fourth place, the game was doomed from the start when Butt caught Lock’s kick in traffic and failed to get close to the goal line.
Tennessee moved all the way to the Broncos’ 24 Hours for half-time, including a 13-yard catch by Corey Davis that injured cornerback Bouye. But the score was 7-7 when Shelby Harris blocked Gostkowski’s 44-yard attempt with eight seconds to go at half time.