Playing on a short week and in the home of the defending Super Bowl champions on Thursday, the Broncos' defense put together one of its best performances of the season in a 19-8 defeat to the Chiefs. Denver held Kansas City to one touchdown in five red-zone opportunities and stifled the Chiefs' run game.
But after the game, the play that stuck with safety Justin Simmons wasn't his first interception of the year or one of Denver's red-zone stands.
Instead, he recalled Kansas City's third-and-2 conversion with just under five minutes remaining. Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice's 28-yard reception helped Kansas City advance into field goal range, while also keeping the Broncos' offense off the field and unable to capitalize on their offensive momentum.
Simmons acknowledged the defensive improvement, but he said a stop in that situation could have helped Denver turn momentum in its favor.
"There was definitely improvements, but I was saying a little bit ago, ultimately there's a chance at the end of the game, it's 8-16, third-and-2 … and they have that big explosive that kind of put them in field goal range," Simmons said after the game. "We've got to be better. That was a big down for us — offense has some momentum and that's playing complete team ball if we're able to get off the field and make them punt, give the offense the ball and see what happens."
Cornerback Pat Surtain II echoed that duality between taking pride in the defensive progress and still wanting to capitalize on opportunities — and specifically that third-down situation — that could have made the difference.
"That's progress," Surtain said of the defensive performance. "It's something we can look forward to and build off this, but … we wanted to win this game, obviously. It was a couple mistakes at the end of the game that cost us, is all that I can say. At the end, defensively, on that key third down, [it] was a huge play for us to get momentum for the offense, but we [weren't] able to capitalize on the opportunity. We take full credit on that.
"Throughout the whole game, I believe we played well. We played with a tremendous amount of effort, we played on the same page and we put out great tape out there today."
Outside linebacker Nik Bonitto highlighted communication and effort as two areas of improvement that the Broncos can carry forward into their upcoming home matchups.
"It does [sting to lose], especially when I felt like we played our best game all year, just communication-wise, just effort-wise — I felt like we played really good," Bonitto said. "We just didn't make the plays we needed to make to win the game."
After returning home to play the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 22, the Broncos will take on the Chiefs again at Empower Field at Mile High. Bonitto said the defense will break down the game tape and look to post an even stronger showing against Kansas City in their second matchup.
"We knew this is the group that we can be all year, and obviously this is going to be really encouraging for us going forward," Bonitto said. "We're going to see that team again, so like I said, we just need to keep getting better."