LOS ANGELES — Can Broncos Country file for divorce? This is a football team that delivers cruel and unusual punishment to the people who love it most.
The Broncos went to Hollywood and played yet another sequel to a movie we were all sick and tired of watching years ago. In a 19-16 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers here Monday night, the “D” in Denver stood for dunderheads.
“It’s very disappointing,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said after another infuriating, soul-crushing defeat dropped his team’s record to 2-4.
The Chargers won the game on a 39-yard field goal by gimpy Dustin Hopkins, who had trouble standing on an injured, tender leg, without gaining so much as a first down in overtime. It was a travesty made possible by a muffed punt by Broncos rookie Montrell Washington that put Los Angeles in business deep in Denver territory.
In a display of undisciplined behavior seldom seen outside of a pre-school at nap time, the Broncos committed an unfathomable 151 yards in penalties, the most in a single game since 1976.
And why can’t the stout Denver defense have nice things? Because quarterback Russell Wilson and his teammates on the other side of the ball keep letting down cornerback Pat Surtain II. Is there some sort of curse that prevents the Broncos from scoring more than 16 points in a game?
“First and foremost it starts with me … We’ve got to come up with better plays for the guys,” Hackett said.
For many television viewers, making DangeRuss and the Broncos a prime-time staple was beginning to seem like the worst idea since the “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”
Well, lo and behold, these not-ready-for-prime-time players arrived in Hollywood ready for their close-up, vowing to either win or die hard trying.
When I asked captain Justin Simmons last week about the importance of beating the Chargers, he did not mince words, insisting: “It’s as urgent as it can be. It’s a must win for us.”
The Broncos took those words to heart and played like there was no tomorrow.
For the first time in a Denver uniform, Wilson looked like $245 million bucks rather than a quarterback feared to be washed up. He completed his first 10 passes, including a 39-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Greg Dulcich that staked the Broncos to a 10-0 lead late in the first quarter.
What allowed Russ to cook? For a welcome change, Hackett replaced the round pegs and square holes from his offensive game plan with X’s and O’s more suitable to the skills that prompted general manager George Paton to make a blockbuster trade for Wilson.
Whether it was the result of careful design or Elway-esque swagger, Wilson repeatedly got outside the pocket to create mayhem with his legs and arm.
Instead of trying to reinvent himself as Drew Brees and figure out how to play quarterback for another decade, Wilson demonstrated DangeRuss urgency to win a game Denver couldn’t afford to lose.
He showed gunslinger tendencies, slinging it deep to K.J. Hamler with a 47-yard completion that set up a field goal, which allowed the Broncos to trot into the locker room at halftime with a 13-10 lead. Rather than worrying about preserving his 33-year-old bones, Wilson called his own number in the read option repeatedly during the second half and finished with four carries for 23 yards.
But whatever magic Wilson had quickly went poof, only to disappear into the smoggy California air. Read this math and try not to weep:
In the first half, Wilson completed 11 of 14 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown.
Thereafter, in seven offensive possessions by the Broncos during the third quarter, the fourth period and overtime, Wilson completed four of 14 passes for 15 yards.
How does that happen? Is Hackett incapable of making any meaningful adjustments as the game goes along? Has Wilson become so maddeningly inconsistent in this Denver scheme that he can’t play anywhere near 60 minutes (or more, if needed) of top-quality football?