ENGLEWOOD - The Super Bowl shoo-ins woke up Monday as a second-place team.
And all those little flaws and imperfections that Peyton Manning glossed over with a steady stream of points - well, those couldn't be glossed over this week.
Manning and the Denver Broncos returned home with their first regular-season loss in 378 days, which left them looking up at Kansas City in the AFC West standings and glowering over a game film that exposed problems in virtually every aspect of their game.
To name a few: An offensive line that can't absorb any more injuries; a defense that needed more than Von Miller's return to repair its problems; turnovers; penalties; play calling.
"You're concerned with all of it," coach John Fox said.
His biggest concerns were the penalties and turnovers. The Broncos (6-1) got flagged for 103 yards; defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson uncharacteristically lost his cool and hit the trifecta - one flag each for unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness and roughing the passer. The Broncos were a minus-2 in turnovers, and that didn't include the blindside sack on Manning by Robert Mathis that resulted in a fumble and a safety.
"We need guys to grow up and play the way they need to," receiver Wes Welker said Sunday night after the game. "I have no doubt we are going to do that."
The offensive line got pushed around all night. Mathis added two sacks to his total to give him a league-leading 11?. Denver's newest starter is Chris Kuper, who took Louis Vasquez's spot at right guard, while Vasquez moved over to tackle to replace injured Orlando Franklin. Left tackle Chris Clark, the permanent replacement for injured Ryan Clady, was overmatched by Mathis.
Manning got sacked four times and hit 10, which left him looking as skittish as he has in the pocket since he arrived in Denver. Fox wrote off the line's lackluster play to the circumstances of the game.
"I think when you get into a chuck-and-duck kind of game when you're one dimensional, especially on the road with the crowd noise and against maybe the best pass rusher in football, it doesn't go real well when you're down 19 points or 16 points," Fox said.
Though the Broncos allowed 39 points, Fox actually said he saw "makings of a championship defense" during the second half. Indeed, Denver allowed Andrew Luck only 228 yards passing and the Indy offense played on a short field most of the night. Still, the Broncos remained at last in the league in pass defense.
"It definitely gets you mad but nobody really runs the ball on us," cornerback Chris Harris said. "Each week, everyone's trying to throw the ball. We're up every game. People are trying to get garbage yardage on us. We know that."
But Denver has allowed 39-plus points twice in the last three weeks. The 28.1 points per game the Broncos allow are more than all but five teams, two of which have faced Denver's high-scoring offense. Miller finished with two tackles, one for a loss, and two quarterback pressures.