ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Lost in the Broncos' 43-16 loss to the Chiefs in Week 7 is that the matchup perhaps signified marked improvement for Denver in their attempt to snap a skid vs. Kansas City.
That's understandably hard to believe in the wake of a 27-point loss, which was the Broncos' 10th consecutive defeat to the Chiefs. Before the game got out of hand, though, there were signs that the Broncos were getting closer to competing with the defending Super Bowl champs.
After two consecutive three-and-outs to begin the game, the Broncos' offense took advantage of a short field to cut the lead to 7-6. In the second quarter, Drew Lock and the offense tallied another eight first downs. A pair of first-half turnovers — a fumble by Melvin Gordon III and pick six from Lock — decimated the Broncos' chances of winning the game, but Denver's offense possessed the ball for nearly 10 minutes more than the Chiefs in the second quarter.
The Broncos finished the game with an impressive 177 rushing yards.
"Yeah, I feel like we moved the ball extremely well in the first half," wide receiver Tim Patrick said Wednesday. "The first half — I watched the film yesterday — I think the [few] that we got stopped was because of turnovers. I think we still ran for well over 100 yards. We didn't have enough big plays, but when you get down like that, they can prepare for shots down the field — play soft zones and stuff like that. Moving the ball, I felt like we were extremely confident. I think the main objective for this game is not to turn over the ball."
The Denver defense also did its part. After scoring a touchdown on their opening drive, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs fumbled, kicked a field goal, went three-and-out and punted on their final four possessions in the first half. They scored plenty thanks to the pick-six and a 102-yard kick return touchdown, but the Chiefs were 0-of-3 on third down and Mahomes was sacked twice in the opening half.
Mahomes finished the game with a modest 200 passing yards for one touchdown and a 107.2 passer rating. That's Mahomes' lowest yardage output in six career games against Denver, save for last year's Week 7 matchup that Mahomes exited at halftime.
Asked Wednesday whether the Broncos could build off that defensive performance, Head Coach Vic Fangio said it was hard to take too much away from what he called "an unusual game."
"They had a 100-plus yard kickoff return for a touchdown and they had a 50-something yard pick six for a touchdown," Fangio said. "They had some short fields. So, it was unusual circumstances [in terms of] their offense against our defense. As a result, their team beat our team. The way the game played out … it wasn't a normal game for them, nor a normal game for our defense."
If the Broncos can avoid turnovers — they turned it over four times in their October loss — perhaps they'll have a chance to snap a losing streak to Kansas City that dates back to 2015.
"We just turned the ball over," Lock said. "That was it, plain and simple. I threw the pick six. We turned the ball over earlier in that game, too. If we just keep the ball in our hands and take what they give us, I think we can have a better outing this time to make the difference in the scoreboard.
"Our biggest focus is taking care of the ball this week and, like I said, doing our job one play at a time."
'A GUT-WRENCHING FEELING'
Speaking to the media for the first time since missing Sunday's game, Lock called watching from afar a "gut-wrenching feeling."
The Broncos' quarterback took responsibility and apologized for his role in being placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list this weekend.
"It was tough," Lock said of watching the team's loss. "It was really tough. It wasn't something that I enjoyed doing. I would much rather have been out there on the field helping my teammates out. It hurt my heart, hurt my soul, and it's time to move on and get to Kansas City and get out there and do what I love, and that's play football."
Practice squad quarterback Blake Bortles, meanwhile, participated in virtual meetings but was not scheduled to attend practice. Fangio said they would follow the same process on a "day by day" basis depending on test results.
"We're just going to limit his exposure here," Fangio said.
IMPROVING ON THIRD DOWN
As the Broncos aim to improve on their 36.1 percent third-down conversion rate that ranks 30th in the league, perhaps tight end Noah Fant can be an antidote.
The big-bodied tight end said he hopes to be a focal point, particularly on third-and-medium scenarios.
"I want to be a big primary guy on third [down]," Fant said. "I feel like — especially … that third-and-six range — those are prime tight end areas to run routes and get open and things like that. So, I guess just to keep pushing forward. That's the only thing I can say is try to keep getting better, try to get with our play calling and things like that and see how I fit in that and try to do some good things on the field. We definitely need some improvement there. We're ranked 30th in the league, so all we can do is kind of push forward in that aspect and get better."
Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell has returned to UCHealth Training Center on a "part-time basis," Fangio said.
Donatell may join the team in Kansas City this weekend, but Fangio said he would likely coach from the box whenever he returns for a game.