ST. LOUIS -- **As cornerback Chris Harris Jr. answered questions in a frustrated Broncos locker room following a 22-7 defeat Sunday afternoon, a small, barely noticeable creek of blood trickled from his lower lip.
"One of the receivers punched me in the face trying to block me," he said.
It was an apt metaphor for the team itself. Harris responded, staying in the game and shutting down the receivers he faced, as usual. But how will the Broncos reply next week after the St. Louis Rams hit them in the mouth, and left them more battered than perhaps any other game in the last three seasons?
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That answer will come soon enough. For now, the issue is that the Rams blasted through and around the Broncos for three hours and two minutes Sunday.
There was a little bit of scheme, a little bit of speed and a little bit of power. At most, there was a sprinkling of luck: a forced fumble from DeMarcus Ware on Shaun Hill that the quarterback recovered when the ball bounced back to him.
But there was nothing flukish about the manner in which the Rams defeated the Broncos to keep them winless all-time in St. Louis.
It was Robert Quinn stunting through the A-gap on fourth down to set up an Aaron Donald sack that virtually clinched the game, capping a day in which in which the Rams hit quarterback Peyton Manning five times -- one of which Ryan Clady couldn't prevent, even though he held Quinn and drew the subsequent flag.
It was rookie running back Tre Mason becoming just the fifth 100-yard rusher against the Broncos in the last three seasons, and breaking two Quinton Carter tackle attempts along the way for his two biggest runs of 15 and 27 yards -- which included 30 yards after bouncing through tackles.
"[Mason] just made the plays," said Harris. "The big issue was just missed tackles. We didn't tackle well as a unit as we usually do, and that's what happens; that's how they got them big runs."
It was every line of the St. Louis defense, from tackle Aaron Donald to safety Rodney McLeod, playing aggressive football. Sometimes, as was the case for McLeod, a flag threw because a line got crossed. But the vast majority of the Rams' aggression was of the clean, line-up-and-attack variety -- and not unusually physical in nature.
"They definitely got some big hits on us. I don't know if that makes them unusually physical," said tight end Jacob Tamme. "Obviously one was one you don't want to see, on Emmanuel (Sanders). The other ones, I guess were pretty clean. But you've got to give them credit for the way they played defensively."
It was all phases. The run defense, the league's best in the game coming into the week, allowed 131 yards, the most since Week 3 at Seattle, when the Seahawks needed overtime to get to 133 yards. The offense could not achieve balance, with 56 pass plays against nine runs -- all by C.J. Anderson -- and a kneeldown. The special teams could not create good field position; on the two kickoffs Andre Caldwell opted to return, the Rams stopped him before he advanced past the Denver 15-yard-line.
"We've got to tighten the screws up as a team. We didn't play well on either side of the ball," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
The Broncos racked up yardage, but one drive after another stalled around midfield. Six of their 13 possessions got to or past the 50-yard-line, but just one ended in points, and the Broncos never ran a play closer to the Rams' end zone than the St. Louis 28-yard-line.
"We're fighting an uphill battle the whole second half, and we didn't do a good job of fighting it," Tamme said. "We feel like we've got a shot every time we get the ball, and we just didn't finish, and that part's frustrating, but we've got to get back, watch this film, see what we need to correct and get better off of it."
They have no choice but to wipe the blood from their chin and do that, because in the race for the AFC West -- let alone the conference's top seed -- the Broncos might already be out of mulligans.
"It's just a tough game, man," said Harris. "We'll be able to bounce back. That's the only thing you can do right now. You can't hang your head on this game."