BALTIMORE — The 2022 Denver Broncos are nothing if not consistent.
They’ve failed to score touchdowns and done so in historic fashion, regardless of play caller or personnel groupings or the length of the injury list.
They’ve failed to convert third downs at a clip that will rank them among the worst of the past decade in the NFL, regardless of who’s on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
They’ve failed in the red zone more frequently than any team in football — except for games like Sunday, when they never managed to bend a blade of grass inside the Baltimore 20-yard line, let alone disturb the end zone’s purple paint.
They’ve developed a bad habit of giving up points late in games, the Achilles’ heel of a defense that is almost one of the league’s best but five times this fall has surrendered scores in gotta-have-a-stop fourth-quarter situations. The latest came Sunday when Baltimore back-up quarterback Tyler Huntley led a 16-play, 91-yard touchdown drive that delivered the Ravens a 10-9 win and the spiraling Broncos an eighth loss in their past nine games.
“They definitely all hurt,” safety Justin Simmons said after the team clinched its sixth straight losing season by falling to 3-9. “This one stings because it’s obviously fresh and because you played so well on the road and gave yourself a chance to win there at the end of the game.”
This Broncos season has been full of the same old song and dance and Sunday they played a greatest hits album of all the problems that have made this group not only one of the worst teams in the NFL but one of the worst this franchise has rolled out in recent history.
“Almost every game comes, in my experience, comes down to one or two possessions, maybe the last one, whatever it may be,” quarterback Russell Wilson (17-of-22, 189 yards) said. … “We all have to make that one play, that two plays, whatever it is.
“Each game is different. Each game has a history of its own.”
Except these Broncos put together some version of the same show every weekend.
Denver has failed to score multiple offensive touchdowns 10 times in 12 games and went without one for the third time on Sunday.
Denver has not converted on more than 31.5% of its third-down tries in any single game since the season opener and went 2-of-12 on Sunday.
Denver has been the worst kick return unit in the NFL this season and had it stuffed down their throats again three times when the Ravens challenged them with short kickoffs and they managed to return the ball only to the 17, 24 and 19.
Denver’s defense five times this season has given up game-altering points in the final four minutes of regulation.
Given what happened Sunday, those instances are worth a revisit.
In Week 4, the Broncos got within 25-23 of Las Vegas only to watch the Raiders march 75 yards in 10 plays to a put-away Josh Jacobs touchdown run with 2:02 remaining.
The next week, Matt Ryan and the Colts capitalized on a Wilson interception by going 67 yards in 2:08 to kick a tying field goal at the end of regulation, then won in overtime. Denver didn’t score a touchdown in that game.
Then in Week 6, Justin Herbert and the Chargers went 58 yards in 10 plays to kick a tying field goal with 3:58 to go in regulation before ultimately winning in overtime.
In London, Travis Etienne capped a 47-yard drive with a go-ahead touchdown at the 3:54 mark, only to see Wilson and the Broncos go right down the field and pull out a win.
In Round 2 against the Raiders, Derek Carr took his team 71 yards in seven plays to set up a tying Daniel Carlson field goal with 16 seconds left in regulation, then needed just three plays in overtime to win the game.
The Broncos added another to the pantheon of late-game disappointments on this sunny Sunday beside the Inner Harbor.
The Denver defense held Baltimore to three points and 227 net yards over their first 10 possessions. Four second-half trips ended in a pair of punts and a pair of Justin Simmons interceptions — turnovers the Broncos offense managed to turn into just three points and one first down.
“I think we kicked a field goal because he got it on their side of the field and then we got eight tor nine yards,” right guard Dalton Risner said, accurately recounting a three-and-out that preceded a 50-yard Brandon McManus field goal. … “We’ve been telling each other, we need to capitalize on this. These turnovers are huge. All the questions kind of seem the same to me. We did some good things on offense but not enough. We can’t score nine points. We’ve got to get into the end zone.”
When Baltimore started a possession at its own 9-yard line with 5:02 remaining and trailed 9-3, it looked like those frustrations might be shoved in the suitcase and transported back to Denver for film review rather than laid out in another bitter postgame news conference.
Instead, back-up quarterback Tyler Huntley, forced into duty after Ravens star Lamar Jackson left the game in the first half with a knee injury, guided the home team the length of the field and plunged into the end zone from two yards out to snap a 59:32 touchdown drought and put his team ahead for the first time on the day.
“The fact of the matter is this one (stinks),” Simmons said. “We gave ourselves a chance to win and defensively we didn’t close out. You can’t play 3.5 quarters of good football and then give up the two-minute drive there at the end and be satisfied with that.”
Not with this offense.
Wilson did get the Broncos 37 yards on a completion to Jerry Jeudy and a pair of scrambles, but they had to settle for a 63-yard Brandon McManus desperation attempt after starting the drive from their own 16-yard line with only 23 seconds to work with
It came up short, just as Denver has so consistently this fall.