Through five weeks of the NFL season, the AFC has not let us down when it comes to scheduling high-profile primetime matchups, as we saw on Monday Night Football when the Raiders-Chiefs AFC West tilt came down to the last play. While the schedule makers put good games on the Thursday Night Football docket, the teams haven’t held up their end of the bargain. When the schedule came out, Colts versus Broncos was appointment viewing, an NFL classic. Instead, we got a classic Thursday Night Football matchup, with two teams already circling the drain before Halloween hits. So much about Denver’s season is so underwhelming that we forget that they treated us to an overtime game with zero touchdowns, an overtime game that they lost 12-9, effectively ending their season.
I am sorry for your loss, Denver Broncos, but your season is over!
Both Denver and Indy tried to plug and play older quarterbacks onto their rosters this season. The Broncos after abandoning the Drew Lock youth movement, and the Colts just continuing their trend of taking over-the-hill quarterbacks then wondering why their quarterbacks are all old. While it worked for the Rams last season, it’s not working for the Colts or the Broncos. While we already declared Indy’s season over, Denver isn’t far behind, and a big portion of that is thanks to Russell Wilson ranking 26th in QBR, with just 250 passing yards and less than a touchdown per game. There are three ways to acknowledge poor quarterback play: benching the quarterback, play adjustments, or the route the Broncos took: a lukewarm statement about a “lingering injury” to soften fanbase scrutiny. This gives the fans an out, and they can let loose the “if he was healthy…” battle cries down from the Rocky Mountain tops!
This game was great if you love defense. The Colts and Broncos combined for six fumbles, four interceptions, and over two-dozen futile third-down attempts. Now, with an offensive display that flat, you have to ask yourself: were the defenses on fire, or are Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson just toast? Wilson took the noble (but empty) gesture of putting the loss on him and saying that he needs to play better to lead Denver to victory. Yeah, we know.
While Broncos fans think that they can at least point to the opposing sideline and say that Wilson is definitely better than Ryan, they’re probably not too correct in that assertion, at least not on Thursday. Wilson couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm in this game, finishing 23-of-39 for 273 yards, two interceptions, and zero touchdowns. How does that look next to Ryan’s 26-of-41, 251 passing yards, two interceptions, and zero touchdown game? The only thing more brutal than the numbers the quarterbacks put up in this game is the numbers the Broncos put on Russell Wilson’s extension.
The similarities between the Colts and Broncos in this game don’t stop at overpaid (and over the hill) quarterbacks. Both teams lost their starting running backs for this one (Denver’s Javonte Williams will be out for the year, but Indianapolis’s Jonathan Taylor should be back next week), both coaches are feeling the temperature on their seats increase thanks to lackluster playcalling, and neither team has gotten their slam dunk WR1 the ball enough for opposing defenses to worry. Can we officially declare both franchises victims of the Curse of Peyton Manning?
Thankfully, the game wasn’t without drama. In the second half, the tension gradually rose until the final minutes of the fourth quarter became a pressure cooker. A defensive play saved the day for the Colts when cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepted Russell Wilson in the end zone, squelching any threat the Broncos had at scoring there. Say what you want about this collection of old-timers on Thursday, but Stephon Gilmore can still defend in the league and found the perfect moment to get his first interception of 2022. That pick, combined with Indianapolis’s offensive ineptitude, brought us to overtime.
In that overtime, Chase McLaughlin knocked in a 48-yard field goal to put the Colts up, and then handed Nathaniel Hackett a paper bag to see if he could coach his way out of it. Sure enough, the Broncos let Russ cook, and he served up a clutch pass to Jerry Jeudy that landed the Broncos at the Indianapolis 17 yard-line. They made their way to fourth-and-1 on the Colts’ five-yard line. Then, the play call ended up with an incomplete pass to Courtland Sutton, with the aforementioned Stephon Gilmore making the breakup.
The Colts were gracious in their post-game interviews, as they all knew that any functional opponent would have annihilated them, including the Jets (shots fired!), given their gameplay. For the Broncos, Nathaniel Hackett felt that he made the right call at the end of the game, and stood by the play call. After all, it wasn’t Nathaniel Hackett that K.J. Hamler was angrily slamming his helmet about at the end of the game, and it wasn’t Nathaniel Hackett who missed that Hamler was standing wide open in the end zone for a game-winning pass. The Broncos fans are, once again, left with another “What if…?” game.
Who knows how long the new Denver ownership group will stand for this level of offensive ineptitude. Through five weeks, the Broncos have topped 20 points just once. What in the Matt Nagy (and Matt Eberflus) Bears is going on there? The Broncos want to Let Russ Cook, but it seems like the game plan is leaving him burnt. All I know is that Russell Wilson and Nathaniel Hackett are off to a terrible start, and it may be a whole new set of scape goats next season.
Broncos country, you’re fried.