All these youthful mistakes are getting old.
In a loss that should embarrass the once-proud Broncos' organization, the Las Vegas Raiders destroyed visiting Denver 37-12 Sunday here before no fans at brand-new Allegiant Stadium.
The Broncos had a chance with seconds left in the first half and only trailing, 10-6, but Drew Lock's running touchdown was wiped out on a holding penalty by second-year tight end Noah Fant and then Lock threw an interception in the end zone, his second of four in the game.
It was one of four interceptions thrown by Lock, who continues to go out there series after series without thought of getting the hook even though he has been struggling since returning four games ago from a strained shoulder.
"We're committed to Drew,'' head coach Vic Fangio said by Zoom after the game. "The more he can play the better he'll be. He's got to fight through this like most young quarterbacks do at some point in their career. And we're going to continue to play him.''
Since when did the Broncos become a farm club for the purpose of developing prospects? This is the big leagues. Backup quarterback Brett Rypien has played in one game this year and he guided the Broncos to 37 points and come-from-behind win.
Lock has more natural ability than Rypien -- most notably a stronger arm and greater mobility -- so sticking with him even when the game is going horribly wrong is understandable for the long-term good of the franchise. But there is also a feel for the game and the ability to make good decisions under pressure that has Lock struggling mightily.
The danger is in sending a message to the team, especially the defense that continue to play hard and overachieve -- at least until becomes disheartened by repeated offensive ineptitude -- that Lock's development takes priority over winning.
That can never be. This isn't to suggest that Lock should be benched permanently. It's just when a starting pitcher doesn't have it, why not bring in a reliever?
Or maybe they can run the ball. In their effort to fix Drew Lock, the Broncos need to do something about this ridiculous ratio:
Lock, for all his struggles, attempted 47 passes.
Phillip Lindsay, their most explosive offensive player, had 4 carries.
There is no excuse for this. It was a 10-6 game at halftime; 13-6 until late in the third quarter. When your quarterback is struggling, don't keep putting it all on him. Run the ball.
Lock threw his third interception in the fourth quarter, setting up a third field goal by Raiders' kicker Daniel Carlson of Colorado Springs. A fumble by Broncos receiver DaeSean Hamilton set up a game-clinching, 7-yard touchdown run by Raiders and former Broncos' running back Devontae Booker.
The Broncos were down 30-6 in the fourth quarter before Lock, as has become his custom in recent weeks, threw a stat-padding touchdown pass on fourth and goal to Hamilton. The Raiders then ran the ball down the gut of the demoralized and gassed Denver defense with Booker adding his second touchdown on a 23-yard run.
"We try not to look and watch the offense too much,'' said Broncos' inside linebacker Josey Jewell, who had his third consecutive 10 tackle game. "We're on the sidelines usually talking to each other about what we need to do better on the next series and stuff like that.
"Yeah, you always want everybody to play better, but really all we can do on defense is focus on ourselves and really focus on how we can better the team. We need to get takeaways, too. They gave it up a couple times, and what we need to do is take the ball away from other people, whether it be fumbles or interceptions. That's something we need to stress."
Lock had his worst day as a pro, completing 23 of 47 for 257 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions for a 37.3 passer rating. Why not pull him and try for a spark with Rypien during a time in the game when the Denver defense was still keeping the game close?
"This organization doesn't pay me, this fan base doesn't cheer us on for me to quit,'' Lock said. "They'll have to carry me off the field for me to come off. It's just what it is when you play quarterback, you're going to have bad days, have good days. You just have to limit the bad ones."
The Broncos are 3-6 while the Raiders are 6-3.
The score could have been worse in this AFC West showdown-turned-mismatch at the Raiders' beautiful facility that has been rendered void of atmosphere by COVID restrictions. The Raiders’ offense failed to take advantage of great field position following Lock’s first interception, had a long punt return for a touchdown by Hunter Renfrow called back by penalty, and receiver Nelson Agholor dropped a touchdown pass.
Those errors were all committed in the first half.
On the first series of the second half, Raiders' star tight end Darren Waller dropped an easy deep pass down the left sideline from quarterback Derek Carr.
All those breaks that went the Broncos way, and they were still blown out by the Raiders.
"Unacceptable. Unacceptable,'' said Broncos left guard Dalton Risner. "That was an unacceptable performance today and we need to know that. It's not that we're going to dwell on that, but I don't care what the reasoning is. We obviously haven't watched the film yet, we don't know what the reasoning was, but that was unacceptable from an offensive standpoint."
Las Vegas finally finished a drive late in the third quarter with a 5-yard touchdown run by running back Josh Jacobs, his second score. The Denver defense was caught with only 10 men on the field.
But then after Lock's third interception early in the fourth quarter, the Raiders couldn't take advantage of getting the ball at the Broncos' 11, settling for a 22-yard Carlson field goal.
“We’ve got to do a good job of evaluating why we’ve thrown these interceptions, what can we do to help him,'' Fangio said. "Everybody’s fingerprints is on that performance, coaches, players, and we all have to take a good hard look at it, which we have been on a weekly basis, but we haven’t found the right formula yet to be consistent on offense.”
Credit the Denver D for adjusting after the opening series to keep it close.
After starting poorly and falling behind by 21 points in their previous two games, the Broncos emphasized better play after the opening kickoff this week.
Their first 5 minutes couldn’t have gone much worse. Diontae Spencer, back after missing the previous three games with a shoulder injury, tried to do too much on the opening kickoff and the Broncos started at their own 2 yard line. A three-and-out left Sam Martin to punt low and down the middle but the Broncos got a break when a long return by Renfrow was called back by a holding penalty.
No matter, Carr led a seven-play, 62-yard drive capped by an 11-yard touchdown run by running back Jacobs. It was 7-0 Raiders early.
Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur answered with some aggressive play calling as Lock both rolled right and set up in a clean pocket for completions of 9 yards to Fant, 14 yards to receiver Tim Patrick and 17 yards to rookie receiver Jerry Jeudy. The drive stalled, though, and the Broncos had to settle for a 50-yard field goal by Brandon McManus, who continued his season-long groove. McManus is 6 of 7 on field goals of at least 50 yards this season.
Denver’s defense came through from there. After Lock’s interception late in the first quarter, the Raiders had the ball at the Broncos’ 39. But the Broncos forced a punt. The Raiders had three straight possessions after their opening drive where they had three punts with 6 combined yards.
The Raiders did sandwich halftime with drives that ended with Carlson field goals. Carlson hails from The Classical Academy in Colorado Springs. His second field goal was from 52 yards early in the second half.
Lock, who appeared to be playing the final series of the first half while wincing in pain from what appears to be a rib issue, has 7 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions this season.
"Nothing, I'm fine,'' Lock said. "I'll be good. I'm definitely frustrated after a day like that. There's a lot of stuff I need to work on and a lot of stuff I can get better at. So, we just have to keep pushing and practicing.''
The Broncos again had a poor running game. Melvin Gordon broke several tackles but still only had 46 yards on 11 carries. Phillip Lindsay was limited to 2 yards on just four carries.
Jacobs finished with 112 yards rushing with touchdown runs of 11 and 5 yards while playing little in the fourth quarter. Booker mopped up his former team by gaining 81 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns. Carr was only 16 of 25 for 154 yards but he had no interceptions and possibly two touchdowns that were dropped.
Broncos receiver Tim Patrick and Raiders cornerback Isaiah Johnson were ejected for throwing punches at each other as the game turned sloppy and ugly early in the fourth quarter.
The Broncos return home to play the 6-3 Miami Dolphins next Sunday at Empower Field at Mile High. An early pick-'em game by the oddsmakers, the Broncos are now 3-point underdogs to the Dolphins. That extends the Broncos' dubious streak of being underdogs in 10 out of 10 games this season.
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