It was the biggest regular season game the Broncos had played in nearly four years. After an 0-4 start, they had the chance to win their third-straight game and climb right back into the race in the AFC West. All they had to do was beat the Chiefs, a team that was reeling after two-consecutive losses and was battling a slew of injuries.
Everything pointed to a Denver win. That’s the way the tea leaves were reading. That’s how the storylines seemed to be trending.
And that was before Kansas City lost Patrick Mahomes to a dislocated knee cap. With the Chiefs star quarterback out of the game, the Broncos were sitting pretty.
What did they do with this golden opportunity? They laid a colossal egg, playing one of the least-inspiring games in recent memory. And that’s saying something, given that Denver is 13-26 since the start of the 2017 season.
While the Broncos lackluster performance was unexpected to some, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. After all, it’s right in line with how they’ve played all season. Even in wins, Denver has played like the football equivalent of Ambien; they induce more naps than a turkey dinner.
Today, there will be plenty of blame being tossed around, as everyone in the Mile High City will be looking for a scapegoat on which to pin the 30-6 loss. But don’t go with the usual suspects.
This isn’t on Vic Fangio, although Vance Joseph didn’t lose at home to Mitchell Trubisky, Gardner Minshew II and Matt Moore. It’s not because of Rich Scangarello, although Billy Moose didn’t have a stretch where his offense racked up 99 yards in a 33-play span. And it had nothing to do with Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Emmanuel Sanders or any of the team’s other veterans, although they all were total non-factors on Thursday night.
Instead, the Broncos embarrassing performance falls squarely on the shoulders of Joe Flacco.
Throughout the season, the quarterback has gotten a free pass. Despite ill-timed turnovers and an inability to make plays, Flacco has inexplicably escaped blame for Denver’s offensive woes.
That’s a benefit of the doubt that wasn’t extended to Trevor Siemian or Case Keenum. And it certainly wasn’t offered to Peyton Manning.
In Broncos Country, the quarterback gets the credit when things are going well and he gets the blame when the team is performing poorly. That’s been the case with Craig Morton, John Elway, Brian Griese, Jake Plummer, Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton and every other signal caller who has lined up behind center in Denver.
It’s time to hold Flacco to the same standard.
Through seven games, he’s led the Broncos to 16.0 points per game. That’s ridiculously anemic in today’s NFL. And it’s why Denver is currently 2-5 and on the brink of turning the page to the 2020 season.
But it shouldn’t come as a surprise. This is what Flacco has always been. These results were painfully predictable. On Thursday night, it was evident prior to kickoff.
The Broncos offense was introduced before the game, giving the fans a chance to get fired up for the showdown with the Chiefs. Sanders drew a nice ovation. Courtland Sutton pumped up the crowd. And Phillip Lindsay generated a roar fit for a hometown hero.
Then, the quarterback came out of the tunnel, as the team saved its biggest star for last. And the excitement came to a screeching halt. Flacco trotted onto the field like a man jogging to his car in a light rain; he had no sense of urgency and wasn’t overly concerned about what was happening around him.
This is the same demeanor the quarterback brings to the field. He never gets excited. He never shows any emotion. And he never seems like he’s in much of a hurry or desperate to make anything happen.
During training camp, everyone was told that this was Flacco simply being “Joe Cool.” He was unflappable and impossible to rattle. Good or bad, he was even keel.
That may be the case, but it’s not a positive trait. A quarterback has to be a leader. He has to inspire. He has to rally the troops. Flacco shows zero ability to do any of those things.
He’s a robot in a uniform, executing the plays that are called exactly as they are drawn up. He doesn’t improvise. He doesn’t go off schedule. He doesn’t freelance.
As a result, Flacco puts up performances like we saw on Thursday night. He made nothing happen. And his team got smoked.
On the night, the Broncos quarterback was 21-of-34 for 213 yards, zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. He was also sacked eight times, fumbled on four occasions (not all of which counted) and led his team to a whopping six points.
The first set of stats aren’t bad. They’re the kind of numbers that allow the Flacco apologists to spin away his lackluster performances.
But the second group of numbers are downright awful. They highlight everything that is wrong with the quarterback’s game.
Flacco is supposed to bring a veteran presence to the field. But against the Chiefs, as has been the case all season long, he made mistakes that would be infuriating from a rookie.
After Mahomes left due to injury, the Broncos trailed 13-6. On their home field, they were in perfect position to win the game, seizing the opportunity that arose due to an unfortunate circumstance.
What did Flacco do? Did he lead his team to a game-tying touchdown, get the fans back into the game and inspire his teammates?
Nope. He fumbled on the second play of the ensuing drive, a miscue that turned into a defensive touchdown for the Chiefs. Flacco’s careless mistake, just like in Green Bay and against Chicago, cost his team dearly.
But the Broncos didn’t throw in the towel immediately. On their next drive, the marched into Chiefs territory and faced a third-and-nine at Kansas City’s 19-yard line.
Did Flacco convert? Did he make a play and put points on the board?
Nope. He took an inexcusable sack, which turned a 37-yard field goal into a 45-yard attempt. Brandon McManus was wide right with his kick, ending what turned out to be Denver’s last legitimate scoring chance of the night with zero points on the board.
Those two plays are just unacceptable. They simply can’t happen.
The Broncos are forced to endure the fact that Flacco can’t move in the pocket; he’s completely unable to buy time, which is deadly behind Denver’s porous offensive line. But that’s supposed to be offset by his veteran smarts; Flacco is on the field because he’ll make good decisions with the football.
But he’s not doing that, offering a double whammy to Scangarello’s offense. The Broncos have a statue at quarterback, who holds the ball too long and repeatedly puts it on the ground. That’s a formula for disaster. Or it’s a recipe for a 2-5 record and an offense that averages 16.0 points per game.
It’s time to stop letting Flacco off the hook. He plays the most-important position in sports and he’s not doing a good enough job. Period.
After a seven-game audition, it’s time for a change. The Joe Flacco era in Denver has been a bust.