By Aric DiLalla – DenverBroncos.com
DENVER — In the wake of a loss that ended the Broncos’ unbeaten start to their home slate and dropped the team below .500, Russell Wilson stood in the press room at Empower Field at Mile High and didn’t mince words.
“It’s very simple,” said the quarterback after a 12-9 loss in which the Broncos squandered a fourth-quarter lead. “At the end of the day, I’ve got to be better. I’ve got to be better.”
On a night in which the Denver defense sacked Colts quarterback Matt Ryan six times and held Indianapolis without a touchdown, the offense was unable to hold up its end.
The loss — which sends the Broncos into their mini-bye at 2-3 — was punctuated by a pair of missed throws into the end zone.
Holding a three-point lead and facing a third-and-4 from the Indianapolis 13-yard line with 2:19 to play in the fourth quarterback, Wilson looked to Tyrie Cleveland and aimed to put the game away.
Instead, All-Pro cornerback Stephon Gilmore undercut the route and gave the Colts life.
“[I] just can’t throw that,” Wilson said. “[I] have to throw that out of bounds if it’s not there. He was cutting across the field, and we were just a little bit off on that and it ended in a negative way.”
Then, in overtime, with the Broncos facing an opportunity to salvage a win, Wilson was again unable to connect. After big gains by Melvin Gordon III and Jerry Jeudy that helped push the Broncos into the red zone, Denver faced a fourth-and-1 at the Indianapolis 5-yard line.
The Broncos lined up in the shotgun, and Wilson took the snap for a chance to win the game.
“We wanted to win the game,” Hackett said. “We hadn’t moved the ball very well the whole night, and I thought we had a spectacular drive to get all the way down there. It ended up being fourth-and-1, and we got the go-ahead to go for it. Thought it was a good decision, wanted to put the ball in Russell’s hand and call a play that we know, and he really likes, and it didn’t work out. It was one of those things — the timeout before was to kind of get a feel for what they were doing and so the run didn’t look as good as we had hoped it would have, and gave it a chance with Russell, and that’s all you can ask for in that situation to win the game.”
Wilson held the ball for a moment, then fired it into traffic as Courtland Sutton cut across the middle of the end zone. Again, Gilmore made a play.
“We wanted to win the game — that was our mentality,” Wilson said. “I think Coach made a good call, and I have to find a way to make a play — whatever it takes.”
Despite the result, the decision was appreciated.
“We win as one, we lose as one,” outside linebacker Bradley Chubb said. “We have one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I would rather have it in his hands than go into a tie or whatever. I want to win the game. I want to go out there and make sure we can do everything we can to win the game.”
The Broncos’ struggles went beyond the two late-game plays — and Hackett made it clear the loss did not fall solely on Wilson’s shoulders.
“I know Russell feels bad about that game, but it’s not just on him,” Hackett said. “It’s on all of us. It’s on the entire team, and for us to learn from this and grow, grow from all five games that we’ve had. We’ve got a little time off. Everybody can take a breath. It’s been a unique schedule, and we can reconvene and get back and get ready to go win another football game.”
Indeed, the problems manifested themselves across the unit. After an opening-drive field goal, the Broncos mustered just two more field goals during the rest of the game. They were 2-of-15 on third down, gave up four sacks and were 0-for-4 in the red zone.
“I think for us, it’s having these negative plays, backward plays or the interceptions or anything negative,” Wilson said. “That’s on us. That’s all on us as players. It starts with me. It’s not on Coach Hackett. It’s not on anybody else.”
On multiple occasions, the Broncos faced opportunities to pad their lead and were unable to do so.
After a 51-yard pass to Sutton in the third quarter, the Broncos stalled out after facing a first-and-goal from the 9-yard line. Brandon McManus’ ensuing 34-yard field goal was blocked, which left the score knotted at six.
Just minutes later, the Broncos regained the ball at the Indianapolis 27-yard line after Caden Sterns’ second interception of the evening. Wilson found Andrew Beck down the seam, but Colts cornerback Kenny Moore dislodged the ball at the last moment in the end zone. Instead of a touchdown, Denver settled for three points.
The Broncos again missed out on points early in the fourth quarter, as Wilson faced pressure and launched a ball down the field on third-and-13 from the Indianapolis 35-yard line. The pass was picked off, which cost the Broncos a potential three points.
“Third-down-and-longs are very frustrating because you’re already behind the sticks,” Hackett said. “We’ve continually seen, I don’t know how many total penalties we had, but it felt like again we were behind the chains in a couple of series, and when you do that, to try and get back in front of them is always a difficult task.”
The loss, though, did not deter Wilson or his teammates.
“The good thing is that one thing I know about myself is [that] I’m going to respond,” Wilson said. “I don’t know any other way. I always believe in myself. I always believe in this team. I believe in what we can do. I believe in what I can do.”
And asked whether there was frustration from the defense, Chubb said he knew the Broncos’ offense would get things right.
“At the end of the day, we know they’re going to figure it out,” Chubb said.
And that support, which came from both members of the offense and the defense, meant something to Wilson as he stood at the podium.
“I think the thing is they know how much I care, and how much I want to help us win and we all want to do that together,” Wilson said.
Perhaps because of that support — and undoubtedly because of his own belief in himself — a resolute Wilson refused to allow the disappointment of the moment to taint his outlook on the season.
“I know I’m a winner,” Wilson said. “I know that I’m a battler. I’m know that I’m going to keep going, keep believing. There’s so much season left. There’s so much opportunity left. I believe in these guys every day, and I know they believe in me too. We believe in each other.
“I’m looking forward to turning it around. Looking forward to turning it around because when we do, it’s going to be a special story when we do it.”