ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In a disappointing 3-7 start to the season, the Broncos have found themselves on the wrong end of a razor-thin margin.
The NFL is undeniably designed for parity — from its draft structure, to the salary cap, to the way the schedule is designed — which results in plenty of one-score games. Through 11 weeks, there have been 126 games that have been within one score in the fourth quarter, which is the most such games through that span in NFL history. Seventy-two games have been decided by a touchdown (six points) or less, which is also the most in history through 11 weeks.
The Broncos have been no stranger to those close games, as all 10 of the Broncos' contests have been within one score at some point in the fourth quarter, and seven of the Broncos' games were decided by six points or less. Six of the Broncos' seven losses came by one possession — and all three of Denver's win came by no more than one score.
Denver is tied for the most one-possession losses in the NFL, and they've played the most one-possession games of any team in the league.
Simply put, the Broncos have consistently found themselves locked in tight games.
As they move ahead with their season, the Broncos need to find a way to win more of those opportunities.
"All these one-score games, it comes down to a couple plays," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said Monday. "In that time, it's about fundamentals, it's about understanding the different things we're trying to accomplish. We have to be sound across the board, whether it's offense, defense or special teams. We weren't last night, and that's how that game got away from us at the end there."
Following the Broncos' loss to the Raiders, safety Justin Simmons said the ability to make these plays is far more important than the stats that have put the Broncos among the league's best units.
"You talk about ratings and all this other stuff that doesn't matter," Simmons said. "What matters is how you execute when it matters most. Had the defense been able to get a stop in a two-minute situation and get a fourth down, stop [the] offense on the field, we win the game, point blank, period."
The Broncos would also be aided by an ability to put games out of reach. Denver has built three 10-0 leads this season and fallen in all three of those contests. In Sunday's loss to the Raiders, the Broncos had an opportunity to reestablish a 10-point lead before halftime and, later, to pad a three-point lead in the fourth quarter. Denver was unsuccessful in both opportunities, and Hackett said the Broncos must find a way to score more points to capitalize on their leads.
"I think in the end, [offensively], we need to score more points," Hackett said. "Let's face it: We're not scoring enough points. We've got to do everything we can to get more touchdowns across the board."
Hackett said he appreciates his team's effort despite the lack of wins.
"The one thing I'll tell you about this team that's great to see [in] all these close games is … how hard they're all playing," Hackett said. "They're out there, they're fighting nonstop. That's what I love about this group. They're staying together, they're fighting. They're doing everything they can so we can be in position to win the game. That's something that's great to see. We just now have to find a way to finish. It's that simple. And [it's about] making those key plays. In this league, making those plays completely can change the entire game. Excited to see what we go with next. Let's go get a win."
Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Klint Kubiak called plays for the Broncos on Sunday, and Hackett said Kubiak would continue to serve as the play-caller as the Broncos move forward.
"That's how we're going to move forward right now," Hackett said. "I thought the communication between Klint and [Offensive Coordinator] Justin [Outten] was really good. I thought the operation was really good, and [there were] a couple things we can clean up with that being their first time going through it, and I think it'll be better the next."
The Broncos scored an opening-drive touchdown for the first time this season, and they had a chance to score a touchdown before halftime that would have pushed their first-half point total to 17.
While Hackett said "it was different" to not call plays on Sunday, he enjoyed the ability to be more involved with all phases of the game. Moving forward, Hackett said he'll continue to be involved in the game-planning process, but he noted he'll have more time to be more present for all areas of the team's operation.
"I think right now as we evaluate going into the game plan together, I think there's going to be a lot of areas that I work in and I'll continually help develop that and be in the quarterback room, continually helping with that but not having to be in there full time," Hackett said. "Same thing with the group, so that will allow me to kind of bounce around, do some other things, where I was missing some things, whether it be meetings or other things [that] come up. I think it'll free me up a little bit, and at the same time I'll still be there to help those guys as much as possible."
Hackett said he previously evaluated whether to make a change regarding the play-calling duties, but he decided to make the change after a 10-point output against the Titans.
"I was evaluating it continually, throughout," Hackett said. "Always trying to think how we can get better. I thought that Jacksonville game, some things really flowed well, and we got in a rhythm. And then when we were in the Tennessee game, I didn't feel right. I think that's why I really put my foot down and decided to move it over to Klint. I'm excited. I'm excited to see what Klint and Justin can put together and being part of that. I think it's a fresh look at everything. I thought it was great having somebody up in the box, too. When you're up in the box calling plays, it's so different. It's quiet, you don't have as many distractions, you can see the whole field. You can help with calls. I think it will give us an advantage, so I'm excited for it now."
PARTING WAYS WITH GORDON
The Broncos waived running back Melvin Gordon III on Monday, and Hackett said the decision was made in the best interest of the Broncos.
"With Melvin, he's a guy [that's] a true pro," Hackett said. "He's done a lot of good stuff here at the Denver Broncos and scored some touchdowns for us this year. We thought it was best for the team, and we've moved on. I wish him the best of luck, and I think it's great for him to have a fresh start."
Gordon fumbled the ball near the goal line at the end of the first half, which denied the Broncos an opportunity at a touchdown. While Denver recovered the fumble, the ensuing field-goal attempt was blocked. Gordon was credited with five fumbles in 115 touches this season.