First-half woes against Falcons continue to plague Denver
Offense — D
By the time the Broncos’ offense woke up, it was too late and there would be no second consecutive miracle comeback. The first-half woes persist. The Broncos trailed 20-3 at halftime and the offense was 1-of-5 on third down and tailbacks Phillip Lindsay and Melvin Gordon combined for 10 yards on six carries. Drew Lock’s interception was careless — under pressure, threw off his back foot and airmailed Jerry Jeudy — but Lock kept fighting and ended up with 313 yards passing (215 in the second half). Jeudy took another forward step in his development with a season-high 125 yards. Unless this offense finds a way to start better, it will have to scrap the game plan at halftime like the last two weeks.
Defense — D
Playing without top cornerbacks A.J. Bouye (concussion) and Bryce Callahan (ankle) was expected to be a chore … and it was. But Atlanta shouldn’t have made it look that easy. Quarterback Matt Ryan sliced and diced his way to 284 yards passing (25-of-35) and three touchdowns. The only error he made was the interception by safety Justin Simmons in the third quarter that gave the Broncos a momentary glimmer of hope. We didn’t hear Bradley Chubb’s number called until he was called for a second-half penalty. The run defense, minus Shelby Harris, held up, allowing only 2.9 yards per carry and Dre’Mont Jones and DeMarcus Walker had sacks. But they need Bouye and Callahan back … quickly.
Special teams — B
It was an eventual day for rookie Tyrie Cleveland, who returned five kickoffs for a 24.2-yard average and he made good decisions on picking which lanes to try and work through. Punter Sam Martin averaged 45 yards on six punts. Coach Vic Fangio thought about sending Brandon McManus out for a 58- or 59-yard field goal on the Broncos’ first possession, but called timeout and stuck with Martin after he said he was talked out of it by special teams coordinator Tom McMahon. Minus Diontae Spencer and Callahan, the Broncos turned to rookie KJ Hamler to return punts (two fair catches and an eight-yard return).
Coaching — D
Next time, Fangio needs to trust his gut and send McManus out for the field goal instead of punting and trying to play field position football. The conditions appeared to be fine for a long attempt. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur made a good call on Hamler’s end-around that gained 15 yards (second-longest carry of the game) and making Jeudy’s crossing route a regular part of the game plan reaped immediate benefits. Fangio fell on his sword, saying he needed to call a better game on defense, but he was calling it left-handed without three starters (Bouye, Callahan and Harris). We would have liked Fangio to try and steal a possession at some point in the first three quarters because that was the only way to slow down Atlanta’s offense.