DENVER • Pray it’s a smokescreen. Pray the Broncos have a better plan than Garett Bolles.

Pray that Vic Fangio doesn’t marry his time with the Broncos to Bolles protecting Joe Flacco, Drew Lock or whoever’s taking snaps from under center. Pray there’s another option, another left tackle, to sneak into Lambeau Field by 11 a.m. next Sunday in Green Bay.

Every snap with Bolles holding (sorry) down one of the most important positions in sports is a prayer. It’s a prayer he doesn’t let Flacco get smoked into the turf. It’s a prayer he doesn’t draw a holding penalty, like he did four times Sunday afternoon in a 16-14 loss to the Chicago Bears at Empower Field at Mile High. You and me, if we mess up the whole operation four times in one work day? We’re working somewhere else tomorrow. Bolles? Five holding penalties in six days. Still here.

“He’s our left tackle and he’s going to be our left tackle and he needs to play without holding,” Fangio said.

Pray the coach is yanking our chain, because there’s no way the Broncos can go forward with Bolles at left tackle. The locker room’s already showing fissures with the first 0-2 start here in 20 years. Sunday night, you had Kareem Jackson telling the assembled media to go home while they waited for Bolles to speak. You had Derek Wolfe leveling the NFL officiating crew that straight-up jobbed the Broncos out of a win — first with a nonsensical roughing-the-passer penalty on Bradley Chubb, next by seemingly gifting the Bears an extra second on the clock that afforded Eddy Pineiro the opportunity to swish the game-winning 53-yard field goal.

“They called roughing the passer, so that’s what it was,” Chubb said, slightly above a whisper.

“Where’s that 1 second come from? That magical 1 second?” Wolfe said.

The Broncos were right to be ticked off. Shoot, I’m surprised they didn’t smash the laundry basket where the dirty socks go, or one of those Microsoft Surface tablets they use to show Bolles where he messed up this time. The Broncos saw a defeat snatched from the jaws of victory, and since 2002 only 11 of 133 teams that began 0-2 have made the playoffs. That’s 8.2 percent. That’s not promising.

And it’s too bad, really, because Flacco’s been better than you, me or perhaps even John Elway expected. That touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders in the back corner of the end zone? Haven’t seen a beauty like that around these hills since Peyton Manning. It cut the Broncos’ deficit to 13-12, and Fangio earned brownie points in the locker room by going for 2.

Great call, coach. Chicago’s ‘D’ was spent after a 12-play, 62-yard drive, and Flacco again nailed Sanders for a 2-point conversion. That’s how you win a locker room, if not the ballgame.

“I just thought that our team at that particular time — for what we’re trying to establish here — it was the right choice,” Fangio said.

Sure was.

Now back to Bolles. Hold on.

“We have the best offensive line coach (Mike Munchak) in the business here, and Garett’s going to learn from this game,” Fangio said.

Look, I don’t enjoy this stuff. Don’t enjoy ripping a guy after 74,254 people ripped him every time there was a flag on the field. (Seriously, never heard anything like that. Never heard a full stadium groan at an offensive lineman. That was a first, and understandable.) But the Bolles era reeks of the Paxton Lynch era, and nobody’s got time for that. What is it about first-round draft picks around here that won’t hold themselves accountable? It’s always somebody else’s fault with Bolles, just as it was with Lynch, just as it was with Shane Ray. Two are out of a job.

“It was frustrating. I’ve built a reputation in this league of holding. I disagree with it, to be honest,” Bolles said.

“I’m going to turn this around. I promise you all that, I promise Broncos Country, I promise my teammates that. It’s just unfortunate they keep coming after me,” Bolles added.

No, guy. Just no. On his fourth offensive holding penalty, Bolles wrapped his left arm around Khalil Mack’s head and lassoed him to the ground. The penalty was as clear as the hole the Broncos find themselves in.

“Offensive line Jesus couldn’t fix him,” ex-Broncos lineman Mark Schlereth said last week on Denver’s 104.3 The Fan.


Going back to last season, the Broncos are on a six-game losing streak — their second in the past 32 games, or two full seasons.

These Broncos have guts. They have zero sacks and have forced zero turnovers, but they have guts to storm back against a defense as stout as Chicago’s. But Bolles led college football in penalties as a senior at Utah and now has 24 penalties in 36 games as a professional. It’s who he is as a player, and it’s burying an offense that’s shown more life than I expected behind Flacco, Phillip Lindsay, rumbling Royce Freeman, Courtland Sutton and the uncoverable Emmanuel Sanders.

“We have a good quarterback, and we have a good system,” said Sanders, who had 11 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.

If the Broncos are hitched to Bolles as a left tackle that eventually can help them to the postseason, here are three words: Hold your horses.

(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)

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