Unwelcome back to Earth, Broncos.
After defeating three Hostess Cupcakes, the Broncos played an authentic NFL playoff-type team Sunday and looked bewildered, perplexed and flummoxed.
And they lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a concussion just before halftime.
Drew Lock, who had a chance at redemption, was exposed as stand-in throughout the second half. But, then, the entire offense, the defense and, especially the special teams again, fell from September sky to Bronctober reality.
Lamentably, the Broncos have serious complications with injuries to two exceptional wide receivers (Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler), their two starting guards (Dalton Risner and Graham Glasgow), Pro Bowl defensive end Bradley Chubb, starting inside linebacker Josey Jewell, cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Michael Ojemudia, and backup running back Mike Boone. On Sunday, Bridgewater, who had played brilliantly in the first three games, suffered a concussion; defensive rookie of the year candidate Pat Surtain II went out late with a chest problem, and returner and reserve wide receiver Diontae Spencer was hurt and had to sit.
Kendall Hinton, an emergency quarterback against the Saints last season, has become the replacement returner and receiver and probably the backup punter.
Don’t ask the Ravens to feel sorry for the Broncos. Their injured reserved lists 16 players, including two running backs and former Broncos’ defensive lineman Derek Wolfe. And Baltimore has a player named Ja’Wuan James in the non-football injury category.
The major concern at the moment for the Broncos is Bridgewater, who could be in concussion protocol for a week, or longer.
Everybody pulling for Lock to be the starter before the season changed their opinions after he was swallowed up whole — like Jonah by the whale — in the mash of the Ravens’ defense when he made his 2021 debut.
Drew completed 12 of 21 passes for 113 yards, no touchdowns and one interception on the Broncos’ final desperate play. He never seemed comfortable or competent.
Bridgewater didn’t resemble the quarterback who overwhelmed the Giants, the Jaguars and the Jets. He actually played more like Daniel Jones, Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson. And with two inexperienced guards in front of him, and Garett Bolles drawing a penalty for the first time this year and the other tackle, Bobby Massie, playing as if he never started before, Bridgewater wasn’t able to step up into the pocket or complete 76.8% of his attempts (as he had in the three victories). He left at halftime 7 of 16 for 65 yards and the Broncos’ lone touchdown. The Broncos certainly wanted to run against Baltimore, and Melvin Gordon III, who was on the questionable list during the week because of two injuries, and rookie Javonte Williams flashed early. Gordon carried nine times for 56 yards (6.2 average), and Williams was 7 for 48 yards — with one of the most bruising bursts since C.J. Anderson left town — for 31.
But, once the Broncos got behind 17-7, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur abandoned the ground game.
The Broncos ran just five times in the second half despite being only a touchdown behind early in the fourth quarter. Did Shurmur drop his play list out the window from the coaches’ box?
Didn’t the Broncos anticipate that the Ravens would bring a full load?
The Broncos’ defense obviously expected Lamar Jackson, the other QB from the University of Louisville and south Florida, to try to run for 150 yards. But the game, Sherlock Holmes, was not afoot for Jackson. It was an arm. For only the second time in his three seasons, the 2019 MVP surpassed 300 passing yards. He was accurate on flings for 49 yards (a touchdown), 32, 24, 20 and 17 among his 22 completions. Will he be compared to Johnny Unitas now?
Jackson, who only practiced Friday because of a back issue, rarely ran — just 7 times for 28 yards. But his back, and the Broncos, didn’t bother 37 passes.
The Broncos were outplayed, outclassed and outed.
They may beat the dregs from Detroit and could have a chance in Pittsburgh, but they can’t take this kind of effort to Cleveland, Dallas or Kansas City.
David Bowie was “The Man Who Fell To Earth.’’ The Broncos also did.