DENVER — So long as the film from the game Thursday night is incinerated, Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson are two quarterbacks who are likely to one day be elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
And yet, together, Ryan and Wilson were the quarterbacks Thursday night to put on one of the worst NFL offensive displays in years. Ryan did just enough at the end while Wilson made two unsightly interceptions and Ryan's Indianapolis Colts stunned Wilson's Broncos, 12-9, in overtime before a frustrated soldout -- but strangely early departing -- crowd at Empower Field at Mile High.
"It's very simple: At the end of the day, I've got to be better, I've got to play better,'' Wilson said. "The defense played their butts off and ... two interceptions, can't happen. I let the team down tonight. But the good thing is one thing I know about myself, I'm going to respond."
For most of the game between Ryan's Indianapolis Colts and Wilson's Broncos, the 37-year-old Ryan looked washed up. Bad as it was going for Wilson and his offense, the Broncos always seemed to be in control of the game. And yet when Wilson's fourth-down pass from the Colts' 5 yard line was batted away in overtime, the Colts wound up the winner.
“I told these guys on the sidelines, it felt like we were up 30-6,'' said Broncos' outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, who was terrific in defeat with 2.5 of the Denver D's six sacks. "I felt like we were so much in control of the game. I hope we didn’t get too lax those last couple drives where we gave up those field goals. We’ve got to keep fighting as a unit and make sure we’re on the same page.’’
Indeed, Ryan eventually turned into a savvy veteran by coming through with late, consecutive field goal drives, the first to tie it in regulation, and put the Colts up, 12-9 with the first series in overtime. It was the first time all game the Colts led.
Lose a close one like this and there is going to be some second-guessing. For Broncos' coach Nathaniel Hackett, there were two key decisions that didn't work out. The first occurred with 2:19 left in regulation. The Broncos were up, 9-6 and had third-and-4 at the Colts' 13 yard line.
Hackett could have ran the ball, run the clock down to the 2-minute warning and taken the chip-shot field goal for a 12-6 lead. Six points might have seemed insurmountable to the Colts' offense, but still Ryan could have won it with a touchdown.
Instead, Wilson went to the end zone where his slant pass intended for backup receiver Tyrie Cleveland was intercepted by Stephon Gilmore, one of the league's all-time best cornerbacks.
“We wanted to be sure that we were able to get a first down,'' Hackett said. "So we were trying to give ourselves a play that could help us with that. We’ve been running the ball well there, so we went with a play-action pass and in that situation, obviously we don’t want a turnover, we want to come away with the points, that would have helped us. We were really working Jerry [Jeudy] across the middle, and I don’t think he was open. We just slowly progressed and Russell thought he had a chance at it, and it ended up being a pick.”
The second big decision was the final one. After a Ryan drive led to a Chase McLaughlin field goal with 5 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, 9-9, the Colts got the ball first in overtime. Again, Ryan led his team to a go-ahead 48-yard field goal by McLaughlin with 5:54 remaining. (McLaughlin was nails, making field goals from 52, 51, 31 and 48 yards).
But Wilson seemed to one up Ryan with his overtime drive. A screen to no-longer-beleaguered running back Melvin Gordon for 24 yards, and a 37-yard completion to Jerry Jeudy set up first down at the Indianapolis 14 yard line.
Three Gordon rushes later, it was fourth-and-1 at the Indy 5. Uh oh. Two time outs were called, one by each team. Wilson dropped to the gun, didn't look to the right where KJ Hamler was cutting inside open, then gunned a pass to the end zone for receiver Courtland Sutton. It was knocked away by, who else?, Gilmore.
Colts win, Broncos lose, 12-9.
Why the pass play from the gun instead of a running play for the first down? Why not take the tying field goal instead of going for it?
“We wanted to win the game,'' Hackett said. "We hadn’t moved the ball very well the whole night, and I thought we had a spectacular drive to get all the way down there. It ended up being fourth-and-one, and we got the go to go for it. Thought it was a good decision, wanted to put the ball in Russell’s hand and call a play that we know, and he really likes, and it didn’t work out.''
What a crushing defeat for the Broncos who are now 2-3 while the Colts improved to 2-2-1.
"We seemed to keep hitting that Big Wall, you know?'' said Broncos' running back Mike Boone, who finished with 38 yards on just 7 carries. "Hurt ourselves. Penalty here. Mistake there. All those things add up. We’ve got to correct those and get back to the drawing board.
“We’ve got the athletes, we’ve got the players to go out and execute the plays. We’ve just got to eliminate the mistakes.”
On a near-perfect fall evening in Colorado – the temperature at kickoff was a comfortable 69 degrees -- a crowd of 71,702 (4,965 no-shows) gathered at Empower Field at Mile High to watch an offensive calamity, even if it was a closely contested game.
Those who watched are those who rubber-neck car wrecks on the other side of the road.
Ryan and Wilson each threw two interceptions. They combined to take 10 sacks -- six by Ryan.
Nothing against the respective defenses. The Denver D had a nice rebound from its disappointing performance four days earlier at Las Vegas by holding Ryan to just 166 yards passing late in the fourth quarter while he was intercepted twice by Broncos' safety Caden Sterns and sacked six times, with Bradley Chubb getting 2.5.
It was a physical and injury-marred game with serious injuries on both sides. The Broncos lost inside linebacker Josey Jewell and cornerback Ronald Darby to first-half knee injuries. Early in the fourth quarter, Wilson went into the medical tent to be evaluated for a head injury.
“Yeah, I’m good,'' Wilson said. "They thought maybe—they checked me out just to make sure I didn’t get hit in the head too bad or anything like that. I was fine, answered all of their questions and everything else. Just a bad play. Tried to make a tackle (after throwing his first interception), tried to hit the guy.”
He was cleared quickly and returned to the game without missing a snap. But with 3:48 remaining, Broncos' left tackle Garett Bolles got rolled up from behind and went down. He had to be carted off the field. Sources told 9NEWS Bolles suffered a broke leg and will miss anywhere from six weeks to the rest of the season.
Meanwhile, the Broncos’ offense was frequently booed off the field by the home crowd that was expecting the end of bad offensive football when general manager George Paton acquired Wilson from Seattle in March. Instead, the Broncos are averaging a paltry 15.0 points per game through their first 5 weeks.
Even a 51-yard heave completion to Courtland Sutton not the way they drew it up as two receivers -- Montrell Washington and Sutton -- ran their routes to the same spot, causing two defenders, two receivers and a back judge to run into each other.
Brandon McManus' third field goal that gave the Broncos a 9-6 lead in the third quarter? It capped a four-play, 0 yard drive that took 19 seconds.
Wilson also threw a gastly deep fly ball interception from plus territory and was sacked 4 times.
For all his 10 years of success in Seattle, Wilson is a bit of a hired gun for the first time. He single-handedly raised expectations for the Broncos to return to the playoffs after a six-year drought. Is he feeling that burden?
“That’s the job, that’s the role,'' he said. "I think we’ve had some really good games and tough tight games. It felt like we were able to finish games and find ways to win before. Unfortunately, tonight we didn’t. Every game has a history of its own. You’ve got to look at this—I’ve got to look at this and see where I can get better. I was battling, obviously, just the shoulder [injury] and all that and just trying to play quickly.
"We should have won that game. Should have won it. Like I said, it’s on me. The one thing that I know is I’ve gone through tough times before. I’ve gone through obstacles, I’ve gone through challenges, gone through highs as well as lows. A lot of highs, several lows, and I wasn’t ever getting discouraged ever. That’s what I know, that’s what I believe, that’s all I’ve ever known.
"I’m grateful just to be out there tonight battling throughout the week and stuff like that. Just unfortunately I didn’t come up with the way I know how to. Tonight, I felt like we could have. I guess I let us down. I know I’m a winner. I know that I’m a battler. I’m know that I’m going to keep going—keep believing. There’s so much season left. There’s so much opportunity left. I believe in these guys every day, and I know they believe in me too. We believe in each other.
“I’m looking forward to turning it around. Looking forward to turning it around because when we do, it’s going to be a special story when we do it. There’s no other way to think because that’s all I know. I’m looking forward to the challenge of it all. I’m looking forward to the adversity of it all, the negativity of it all, and everything else because just use that for fuel and opportunity.
"When we do. It’s going to be an exciting time because there’s a lot of great guys in that locker room that work their butts off every day. Just to have the opportunity to help lead them – even though I didn’t get to do it tonight the way I wanted to and that way I know how to. I’m grateful they’re battling for every moment—every play. They kept believing it to the last play. And that belief is a powerful thing and that’s what I’m going to doing.”
The Broncos will have to wait 11 days before they play again the following Monday, Oct. 17 against the Chargers in an AFC West contest in Los Angeles.
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