KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Sunday’s 30-23 loss at Arrowhead Stadium left cornerback Chris Harris Jr. with few answers to questions of how the Broncos can correct the mistakes that doomed them in their seventh consecutive loss to the Chiefs.
What he did know, though, was that this one hurt.
“Man, this was one of the hardest losses I done had in the regular season,” Harris said. “Just fought so hard trying to do whatever we can to win, and it’s just really upsetting.”
The main reason why the Broncos fell was a familiar one. Penalties had been a theme in the Broncos’ first loss of the season in Week 3 against the Ravens, and the problem resurfaced in Kansas City to the tune of 10 penalties for 83 yards. The Chiefs also declined three penalties on Broncos players.
It left Harris and plenty of his teammates visibly frustrated during the game, and their exasperation didn’t dissipate after the game ended when the Broncos returned to the locker room.
“That just kills us,” Harris said. “We get a good defensive stop or something and, penalty. We get them in a good situation, penalty. We just kill ourselves. Offense, they had a nice drive going, 20-yard play, penalty. Every time. We’ve got to figure it out. I don’t know what it is.”
With the opportunity the Broncos had against one of the NFL’s top teams on the road, these mistakes felt particularly painful.
“I’m tired of it, man,” Harris said. “I’m just getting fed up with it, really. We’re just beating ourselves every week. I can’t count how many penalties we had on ourselves. We just can’t do that if we want to come in here and beat the Chiefs.”
The refrain was a common one, and it all felt too familiar. The self-inflicted wounds, coming close against a great team and still falling short — these are things that the Broncos have experienced in their past three losses.
“I think we’re beating ourselves a lot of times, with penalties,” defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said. “We’re not an undisciplined football team, so that’s crazy to me. … Sometimes there’s good calls, sometimes there’s bad calls. Sometimes the ball rolls your way, sometimes it don’t.”
As much as the Broncos could tell themselves how much things could be better had a few plays gone differently, it doesn’t mean much to them because those issues have persisted.
“We lost. If you lose, it doesn’t count for [expletive],” Wolfe said. “All that matters is wins in this league. This is a production league. If you’re not winning, then it don’t matter what you did. If you lose, it don’t matter how good you played.”
The loss, which had been described as a “season-changing game” earlier this week by Harris, leaves the Broncos with the smallest of margins for error as they enter the midway point of their season at 3-5 and still holding onto hope that they’re a playoff-caliber team. Multiple players insisted that the Broncos’ record doesn’t attest to the quality of football they’ve shown they can play, but they also recognized that proving it and making the playoffs will require a Herculean effort down the stretch.
“I think you have to win every single game,” Wolfe said. “That’s the only way we’re going to be able to compete in this league. You have to win every single game from here on out. Can’t lose another one.”
The odds won’t be in the Broncos’ favor, but any other mindset would be fatalistic.
“At the end of the day, you’ve got to go out there and play as hard as you can every single snap, every single game, every single season and hope for the best,” Wolfe added.
It’s the Broncos’ only option.
Photos of game action from Broncos photographers during the team's Week 8 game against the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.