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Family Christmas: Kroenke's Rams route Walton-Penner's Broncos, 51-14

Russell Wilson threw three interceptions. Baker Mayfield, Cam Akers, sliced and steamrolled the Denver D.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — To anyone who doesn’t think the Broncos will make significant changes in the offseason that is two weeks away, let’s put the final score this way:

Kroenke 51

Walton-Penner 14

The new Broncos owners didn’t get into the NFL business to get humiliated.

But that’s been the case through a 4-11 start to their first season, an embarrassment that turned several more shades of red during the slime green Nickelodeon game here on Christmas Sunday afternoon at warm SoFi Stadium.

“We’re embarrassed. It’s embarrassing,’’ said Broncos’ inside linebacker Alex Singleton, whose 20-tackle effort was an exception to the Denver D’s missed-tackle rule Sunday. “That’s not how we play. We’re going to look at it, throw it away and get ready for the Chiefs.”

Oh great, the Chiefs. The 12-3 Kansas City Chiefs who have clinched their seventh consecutive AFC West Division title and have beat the Broncos 14 straight games dating back nearly 7 ½ years. That’s who the Broncos play next, on New Year’s Day, at Arrowhead Stadium.

Credit: AP
Los Angeles Rams tight end Tyler Higbee celebrates after scoring past Denver Broncos cornerback Damarri Mathis during the first half of an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio J. Sanchez)

Another holiday game for the Broncos after Christmas Day was a football massacre.

“We said that we had to stop the run and we said we couldn’t turn the ball over,’’ said Broncos’ head coach Nathaniel Hackett. “And both of those things happened (to us). We got outcoached, we got outplayed. It’s that’s simple.”

Hackett may well be the scapegoat to this horrendous season – arguably the most disappointing in team history given the enormous expectations Broncos Country had after the expensive – in terms of trade compensation and contractual commitment – acquisition of star quarterback Russell Wilson.

If Hackett doesn’t make it to year 2, it will be the 4-11 record, No. 32-ranked scoring offense and disappointing play of Wilson that will doom him. What’s scary to think about is it may not be Hackett’s fault.

Wilson was asked after his interception-marred performance Sunday: How did it all go so wrong this year and what must happen to change it?

"A lot needs to happen,'' Wilson said, "No. 1, I have to play to the standards that I know how to play to. And I've been playing to my whole career. I'll never let a moment like tonight define me. We're at a low moment right now. I don't fear low moments because I know every time I've always come out the other side.

"All I know how to do is keep fighting, keep battling. The reality is, it's been a storm. It's been a storm all year. It's not what we hoped for, not what we dreamed of. But it doesn't mean it's going to end that way for years to come. We got to change it and like I said, it starts with me."

Hide the children watching at home. A mixed gathering of green Nickelodeon Slime-capped seats, empty seats, Broncos’ orange jerseys and the gradually growing Rams faithful all saw the home team – the defending Super Bowl champs who also brought in a disappointing 4-10 record – route the visitors early and often. Rams punter Riley Dixon, the former Bronco, had been relegated to extra-point and field-goal holding, but not punting.

Zero punts for Dixon as the Rams scored on all 8 of their full possessions -- five touchdowns and three Matt Gay field goals. They then added a ninth and final score on a pick six by Cobie Durant, who returned a Brett Rypien pass to the flat that was outside where newcomer receiver Freddie Swain was knocked off his route.

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson passes during the first half of an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio J. Sanchez)

Before the game, the Kroenkes and Walton-Penners held a Christmas family gathering on the SoFi Stadium field. Rams owner Stan Kroenke and his son Josh, who is president of the NBA Denver Nuggets and NHL Colorado Avalanche, walked over to the Broncos’ sideline to have a nice meet-and-great with Broncos’ owners Rob Walton, his daughter Carrie and son-in-law, CEO Greg Penner.

Stan Kroenke has long  been married to Rob’s cousin, Ann Walton Kroenke.

There were a lot of smiles, and handshakes and hugs and back pats.

Then the game started. Wilson, back after being held out of the previous game as a precaution to a concussion, threw two interceptions and it led to 14 Rams points and it was Kroenke’s Rams 17, Walton-Penner’s Broncos 0.

The Rams used running back Cam Akers to run the ball through the gut of the Denver defense on the opening drive before it stalled into a 55-yard field goal bomb by Gay.

Wilson then threw interceptions off the Broncos’ first two possessions, giving the Rams’ offense a short field each time to convert the turnovers into touchdowns. 

Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield, claimed off waivers less than three weeks ago, was 6 of 6 for 59 yards and a touchdown after his first three possessions, while Wilson started 0 of 3 with the 2 picks.

Wilson had a nice third possession, completing 4 of 4 with strikes to Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy for 21 and 23 yards, respectively. But that drive stalled into a 54-yard field goal by Brandon McManus.

Mayfield answered, extending his accuracy streak to 11 of 11 before he threw one away. He then zipped a 7-yard touchdown to tight end Tyler Higbee – his second of the game – who ran over Broncos' Pro Bowl cornerback Pat Surtain II on his way to the end zone to push the score to 24-3 Rams.

To bring more laughter into insult, Mayfield and Akers mixed a 12-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that ate up more than 6 minutes of game clock late in the second quarter. Akers finished it with an easy 2-yard run to the end zone.

It was 31-3 Rams with 1:06 left in the half.

Mayfield finished 24 of 28 for 230 yards and 2 touchdowns before was pulled for mercy in the fourth quarter. Higbee is the Fantasy League tight end of the week with 9 catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns. Akers had 118 yards rushing with three touchdowns off 23 carries.

Wilson had arguably his worst game since joining the Broncos as he was picked off three times -- besides his first two possessions of the game, he had the team in scoring position to open the second half but he threw late to tight end Greg Dulcich, who was open in the end zone and as the pass hung up, Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey recovered for the drive-killing interception.

No doubt, the Broncos’ quarterback had a tough day.

“He did,’’ Hackett said. “He kept trying to bounce back and do whatever he could to help but it didn’t go our way and we had too many turnovers.”

Wilson did throw a consolation touchdown to Dulcich in the fourth quarter but that came after the Rams went ahead, 41-6. Wilson was 15 of 27 for 214 yards a touchdown and three interceptions. He was sacked six times.

After one failed possession, Rypien came over to the bench area where the offensive line was gathering and said something that upset left guard Dalton Risner. The two got into a heated exchange in front of camera’s view while a fan's cell phone caught Risner use his left hand to shove Rypien while running back Latavius Murray stepped in to push back Risner.

Despite appearances of dissension among the ranks, both said afterwards it was nothing other than a moment of frustration between friends.

“First off, it’s brotherly love,’’ Risner told 9NEWS in the locker room afterwards. “I’ve got so much respect for Ryp. He let our offensive line know that we need to pick up Russell Wilson when he goes down. And it’s the middle of the game, it’s heated. I didn’t really hear what he said. I thought he was talking about us giving up sacks.

“Me and him exchanged some words and (Murray) broke us up and 5 minutes later me and him were hugging. I told him, ‘Hey, I think your message was good, I misunderstood you.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I shouldn’t have came at you that way. Should have been different timing.

“You know so things happen when you’re frustrated and you’re competitors and you want to win. We have nothing but love for each other.”

Credit: AP
Denver Broncos quarterback Brett Rypien warms up before an NFL football game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Denver Broncos on Sunday, Dec. 25, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio J. Sanchez)

Rypien agreed.

“It was just miscommunication,’’ he said. “Dalton and I are really good friends. He thought I said something else.’’

Another sign Hackett's team has lost control was the actions of edge rusher Randy Gregory. Cleared to play following a pregame workout audition even though he didn't practice during the week because of discomfort in his surgically repaired knee, Gregory drew an unsportsmanlike penalty following a Rams touchdown, a roughing the passer penalty seemingly out of frustration that helped lead to a Rams touchdown, then threw a punch at Rams right guard Oday Oboushi during the postgame handshake gathering. Oboushi threw a punch back. 

"If you want to know if I hit him in the mouth, I did,'' Gregory said as he walked through reporters who had gathered around him for comment. "And I got one back."

One source said Oboushi had been provoking Gregory all game with personal comments about his past. Still, it's often the retaliation that draws the penalties.

Jeudy had six catches for 117 yards, while Sutton, who was returning after missing the previous two games with a hamstring injury, had five catches for 64 yards. Murray had eight carries for 34 yards and ran in a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter but the  Broncos had to abandon their running game early as they fell way behind.

The Broncos do play next at Kansas City next Sunday. Then it's home against the Los Angeles Chargers to wind up the regular season.

And then CEO Greg Penner is expected to make some significant changes.




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