The Broncos had a signature win right in their grasp. After trailing throughout the game, Denver finally took the lead over Chicago with just 31 seconds to play, going up 14-13 after converting a two-point conversion.
It was going to be a gritty win, coming as a result of a gutsy call. It was going to galvanize a team, giving the offense a much-needed victory in the locker room and the first-year head coach some well-deserved respect amongst his players.
But then, the final 31 seconds happened.
In an outcome that almost seemed surreal, the Bears were able to rally in the waning moments of the game, stop the clock when it read “:01” and kick a 53-yard field goal at the gun to escape the Mile High City with a victory. It was a stomach punch to the Broncos, taking the team from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows in a matter of minutes.
Today, there will be plenty of people getting blamed for the loss. There’s no shortage of candidates.
The roughing the passer penalty called against Bradley Chubb during Chicago’s final drive, which moved the ball to the 45-yard line and gave the Bears hope, was a horrific call. If a defensive player can’t hit a quarterback in that manner without drawing a flag, then there’s no reason to put on pads; it’s no longer football at that point.
The timeout that stopped the clock with one second remaining in the game was also debatable. Did Allen Robinson fall to the turf before time expired? Did Mitchell Trubisky signal for a timeout at exactly that moment? The Broncos certainly didn’t get any home cooking from the clock operator in that situation.
Denver only managing to put 14 points on the scoreboard, when they seemingly spent the entire afternoon in Chicago territory, is difficult to explain. Punt after punt from around midfield, as well as an interception at the one-yard line, turned what should’ve been a big offensive day into another relatively anemic-looking performance.
As legitimate as those reasons are for the Broncos falling on Sunday, however, they aren’t what people should be focusing on today. Yes, those are things that the league and the team need to improve as time goes on, but a signature win early in the Vic Fangio era didn’t evaporate because of those issues.
Denver lost to Chicago because they couldn’t stop the Bears on fourth-and-15 with nine seconds left in the game.
Period. End of discussion.
Even after the Chubb penalty, the Broncos had the chance to keep the Bears from scoring. Despite their offensive struggles, Denver had the lead at the end of the game. And if the defense did its job, the guy running the clock wouldn’t have even been a factor.
Fangio’s team is built for that type of situation. They’re a defensive-minded franchise; that’s where they’ve invested money, where their best players reside and how they’re built to win games.
So any time it comes down to fourth-and-15 with nine seconds to play, the Broncos should excel. If all 16 games came down to that scenario, Denver should finish the season with 12, 13 or 14 wins; it’s how they want games to be decided.
In that moment, they can turn their best player loose. Von Miller doesn’t have to worry about defending the run; instead, he just goes after the quarterback. On the other side, Chubb can do the same thing. And the secondary, arguably the strength of the Broncos roster, can pounce in an obvious passing situation.
But none of that happened on Sunday. With the game on the line, Denver’s best players disappeared.
That’s what everyone should be focusing on today. That’s the major concern two weeks into the season.
More specifically, the biggest question surrounding the Broncos at the moment should be a simple one: Where in the heck is Von Miller?
Through two games, Denver’s highest-paid player has been a total non-factor. Five tackles and two assists isn’t going to cut it, not for a guy making $17 million and counting $25.125 million against the salary cap in 2019.
After the team’s season-opening loss in Oakland, it was excused as the Raiders implementing a quick-strike passing attack that neutralized Miller, Chubb and the rest of the team’s pass rush. That seemed like a bit of an excuse, but watching Derek Carr get rid of the football in less than two seconds time after time after time added some validity to the notion.
That said, there’s no reason for what happened against the Bears. One the day, Miller recorded one tackle and one assist, both in the first half. Throughout most the game, he was a spectator, literally standing and watching as his teammates made plays nearby.
But none of that mattered. Miller isn’t paid to tackle running backs in the second quarter. His job is to get after the quarterback when the game is on the line.
In other words, Miller is supposed to make a play on fourth-and-15 with nine seconds left in the game. In an obvious passing situation, No. 58 has to make a play with the game on the line. He needs to get a sack, pressure the quarterback or make something happen.
Instead, he did nothing. Just like he had done throughout the game.
Admittedly, the entire Broncos defense is a bit off to start the season. Through two games, they’ve failed to record a single sack or force any turnovers.
That lack of production is nearly impossible to imagine. For a team that is supposed to be built around its defense, it’s downright shocking.
But even in this situation, other players are making an impact. Chubb was all over the field on Sunday, as were Derek Wolfe, Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons and other star players.
Miller, however, was a total non-factor. Had he not played in the game at all, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Heck, it might’ve been to Denver’s advantage; at least they would’ve had an 11th player on the field, something that didn’t seem to be the case a lot of the time Miller out there.
Fourth-and 15 at the Bears 40-yard line with nine seconds to play? That’s Von Miller time. He’s on the Broncos roster for just that type of moment. He got paid more than $1 million on Sunday because he’s supposed to make a play in that situation.
Gripe about the officials. Complain about the offense. Give the guy running the game clock a hard time. That are all legitimate things to be mad about today.
But the Broncos lost on Sunday because their best player didn’t show up.
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