SEATTLE – Turn the football over four times, and you'll almost always lose. Watch two of those giveaways happen within inches of the goal line or in the end zone, and have one of them returned 106 yards for a touchdown, and you're liable to get humiliated.
"Like I told our team, when you are minus four, you're going to win 10 percent of your games. When you're playing a good team, you're going to win zero percent," said Broncos coach John Fox.
In the context of a game for which the Broncos did little game-planning or scheming, those were the bottom-line aspects of a 40-10 loss that was the most lopsided preseason defeat the Broncos have suffered in nearly 31 years. But illustrating the significance of such results, the last 30-something preseason loss preceded a season in which John Elway showed flashes of his future brilliance and the Broncos made the playoffs anyway with one of the biggest turnarounds in franchise history, going from 2-7 to 9-7 overnight.
Preseason is more about the process than the final result. But it was where the process bogged down that was the story of the game – at the goal line, where Ronnie Hillman leapt and fumbled while trying to score, in the open field, where Julius Thomas saw a 20-yard reception turn to disaster when Brandon Browner forced him to fumble, or in the backfield, where Orlando Franklin couldn't contain O'Brien Schofield off the edge, leading to Brock Osweiler's lost fumble in the second quarter.
"It felt like we were beating ourselves," added wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "It was putting ourselves in a bad situation, especially when they go down and score on us. It's just like they're putting up points on us and we're not; we're just turning it over."
Such a spate of giveaways was uncharacteristic of the offense last year, so there's reason to believe Saturday's issues were the exception rather than the norm. The offense was efficient; it controlled the football for 7:20 more than the Seahawks in the first half and had one drive of 80 yards and another of 79
Peyton Manning looked, well, like Peyton Manning. At one point, he completed six consecutive passes; later he connected on five more in succession. Wes Welker looked like Wes Welker. He picked up one first down by leaping for the final yards and throwing himself across the Denver 30-yard-line; he helped create room for Julius Thomas downfield by drawing coverage from the linebackers and safeties underneath.
And Von Miller looked like Von Miller. On one play, Seattle running back Robert Turbin had to commit a holding penalty to keep him from engulfing Russell Wilson; on another, he stumbled and still managed to disrupt Wilson's pass.
These circumstances were not enough for anything close to a win. They were enough to offer reassurance that the Broncos can pick up where they left off.
But in a part of the season that is all about the process, there were mistakes that will take more than simply avoiding mistakes to correct. Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler will have to adapt to playing under heavy pressure; he was under siege when he was with both the first and second offensive lines, but fumbled twice on the four times he was sacked and was intercepted once. Rookie running back Montee Ball had a promising night on the ground, but missed a block on Seattle's Bobby Wagner, and allowed Manning to take a hard hit.
"I got a piece of him and he slipped off me at the last second," Ball said. "I'll correct that, and we'll move forward."
If all the mistakes are corrected, than Saturday will be just an unpleasant, occasionally painful, teaching experience, but one that was quickly forgotten. But it's as important for the Broncos without All-Pro pedigrees to correct those errors as it is for those in the spotlight to perform.
Otherwise, Saturday might not be the last time the Broncos are tainted by turnovers and playing from behind.