Initial thoughts from Broncos’ 22-17 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 13 on Sunday afternoon at NRG Stadium:
Have fans, will travel: It should be no surprise that the very first shot of Sunday’s game featured a whole lot of orange. Even after years of ineptitude, a bungled ownership succession plan and mountains of disappointment, Broncos Country shows up. Every time. And now with a team in the thick of a playoff race that fans can get behind, they take over nearly a quarter of the stadium on the road. As for Houston? Well, there sure appeared to be a lot of Texans fans dressed as empty seats at NRG Stadium. It’s enough to make us miss those old Houston Oilers helmets. Bring back the oil derricks.
The flag’s the thing: There’s no getting around it. The first half was absolutely brutal for the Broncos in terms of the officiating. First, Russell Wilson gets hit low on the very first drive of the game … only to be denied the Tom Brady roughing the passer flag. Then Alex Singleton briefly loses his cool and (justifiably) gets flagged for a personal foul on a failed Houston third down that indirectly leads to a Texans touchdown. And, finally, a Wilson underthrow to Marvin Mims Jr. produces an obvious defensive pass interference … that goes uncalled. That’s a seven-point swing in Houston’s favor, at minimum. Of course, that third-quarter “drop” from Samaje Perine was probably a fumble, so Even Steven?
Going deep: It took all of two plays for the Broncos to show their hand offensively. Two snaps, two deep balls from Russell Wilson. Both were in Courtland Sutton’s direction. Both were incompletions, with the latter a drop. It was a sharp departure from the pound-the-rock-and-play-D identity that produced Denver’s five-game win streak, but conceivably a sound one considering the suspect secondary Houston brought into Sunday (27th in pass yards allowed/game). Still, it appeared to be a loser right up until the moment Russ and Sutton finally connected on a beautiful 45-yard scoring pass in the third quarter that nearly doubled Wilson’s passing yardage to that point. Throw in a 41-yard strike to Jerry Jeudy, and it’s hard to argue the strategy didn’t produce. Just not when Houston cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. was involved.
Team Takeaway no more: The question that has hovered over the Broncos during their five-game win streak? What happens when all those defensive takeaways start to dry up? Sunday, we may have received our answer. Twice the Broncos defense forced a fumble. Both times the Texans were able to recover the ball, including a C.J. Stroud fumble forced by Ja’Quan McMillian in Houston territory that was in the Broncos’ hands but somehow squirted out. Denver’s next offensive snap? A Russell Wilson interception that led to another Houston touchdown and 12-point deficit with just over 14 minutes to go. Russ threw one more pick in the end zone, of course, on the Broncos’ last offensive play of the game to finish with three. Your final takeaway tally: Texans 3, Broncos 0. And that’s your ballgame.
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