ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A season ago, the Broncos rebounded from an 0-4 start to win two consecutive games.
Following victories over the Chargers and Titans, Denver entered a prime-time home game against the Chiefs with a chance to pull within a game of Kansas City in the division and boost its record to 3-4.
The Broncos opened "Thursday Night Football" with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take an early lead against the Chiefs.
Denver, though, wouldn't score again. The Chiefs scored 30 unanswered points to earn an easy win and drop Denver to 2-5. The Broncos wouldn't truly challenge for the division title again during the rest of the season, though they did make a late charge to earn second place over the Raiders.
One year later, the Broncos are bearing down on another Week 7 game against Kansas City. This season, the Broncos started 0-3 before rebounding to win two consecutive games over the Jets and Patriots.
This year's game won't be on prime-time TV, but a win over the Chiefs this season would push the Broncos back to .500 and could tighten the division race.
More important than the division standings, though, is if the Broncos can earn a much-needed third win — and snap a nine-game losing streak to the Chiefs.
"We'll find out," Head Coach Vic Fangio said when asked if the Broncos are better prepared this year. "We certainly hope so. There are a lot of different players here that weren't here from that game last year, either through attrition or through injuries. We'll see where we're at. It's going to be a great challenge. They're the defending champs. They came within an offsides penalty of probably winning the Super Bowl the year before also. We know who they are, and they're a great, great team. They score a lot of points, their defense has gotten a lot better from early on last season, and it will be a major challenge."
Fangio said Andy Reid and the Chiefs sport a "Star Wars offense" that features dynamic players like Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Mecole Hardman and Clyde Edwards-Helaire. Mahomes, Fangio said, is "getting better and better" — and it's difficult to focus attention on just one of those skill players.
As such, the Broncos' defense will likely face its biggest challenge of the year. If they're up for it, the Broncos could earn a monumental win and defeat the Chiefs for the first time since Week 2 of the 2015 season.
"We knew we could be a really good team; we just have to keep putting these pieces together and keep rolling," Drew Lock said after a win over the Patriots. "We are playing a really, really good team next week. It's going to be a really good test for us to see who we are and see if we're mentally and physically tough enough to come in there and try to get a win. I truly feel like we're an extremely good team, we just have to put both sides of the ball together — all three actually: special teams, offense and defense. We were a little bit together tonight, but I'd say special teams and defense carried this win, without a doubt."
REED IT AND WEEP
Outside linebacker Malik Reed earned a roster spot as an undrafted player in 2019, and he started eight games after Bradley Chubb suffered a season-ending injury.
Reed, a Nevada product, has again benefited from an unexpected opportunity. He has started the last two games as Jeremiah Attaochu recovers from a quad injury, and tallied two sacks against the Patriots. The second one came on second-and-10 with the Patriots driving for the lead. Reed dropped Cam Newton for a 6-yard loss to set up a third-and-16. The Broncos would hold on an ensuing fourth-and-10 to get the win.
"He put together two good rushes there," Fangio said Monday. "They were rushes where we had an extra guy or two in the rush which helped eliminate the quarterback's ability to step up and wiggle through a space. He took full advantage and they were two great plays by Malik."
ALBERT O.'S FIRST CHANCE
For the first time in his young career, fourth-round pick Albert Okwuegbunam appeared in a game for the Broncos. With Noah Fant out, Okwuegbunam was targeted six times and made a pair of catches for 45 yards. One of those plays, a 27-yarder, helped Denver convert a key third down.
Okwuegbunam, though, failed to hold onto a couple of passes in the end zone that would've given Denver an elusive touchdown. Fangio said Monday that Okwuegbunam's performance was encouraging, and that the young tight end should be able to build upon the outing.
"I was pleased with some of Albert's play yesterday," Fangio said. "He made two nice catches and ran with it well after. I think it was a good first outing for him and is something that he can build upon. There are some other plays that he would like to have over. I'd like to see him come up with one or two of those balls that were thrown his way, but we're highly encouraged by him. I think it was a good start and hopefully we'll be able to keep him active. We'll see how it shakes out here."
Fant may be able to return in Week 7, so the Broncos will have to decide if Okwuegbunam returns to being a game-day inactive or if it's worth finding another player to take his spot on the inactive list.
INCREASED COVID-19 PRECAUTIONS
Following Running Backs Coach Curtis Modkins' positive COVID-19 test, Fangio said the Broncos are making a few modifications to their safety protocols.
"Yes, there are some changes," Fangio said Monday. "We're working through them today and tomorrow. The players will be back in on Wednesday and we'll have them all situated by then. We'll change some meeting rooms around. We had already done that two weeks ago, because with all injuries we've had, we actually have more players here right now than we had during training camp. So, we had to alter our meeting rooms and our entire offense has been over in the indoor facility all last week, which we would have to do that now. The offense is all situated and there's a chance that we may put some of the defense over there too this week, just for the spacing issue."
Fangio said he wasn't sure when Modkins will be able to return to the facility.
"It won't be any time soon, meaning in the next two, three, four or five days," Fangio said. "After that, I'm not sure."