See all the action from Sunday's game in St. Louis.
ST. LOUIS —** The Broncos offense is not unfamiliar with slow starts, but those usually ebb out as they get into their rhythm. In St. Louis against a Rams team with a tough front line, the Broncos' offense never quite managed to get in the quick-scoring flow that's become so familiar.
Denver looked to the air from the get-go after the Rams scored on their first drive of the game with a field goal, but the Broncos' first set of plays sputtered after a short throw to Julius Thomas near the first down marker failed to get yardage after the catch.
But the Broncos defense held up on the Rams' next possession and returned the ball to Peyton Manning and the explosive offense in quick succession. Emmanuel Sanders kept the chains advancing with two catches on third downs and the offense pushed St. Louis' defense into ever-shrinking space behind them. But the Broncos would get no further than the Rams' 37 on the drive. A pass to Montee Ball fell to the turf on third down, and then the Broncos would turn the ball over on downs after an attempt to Sanders had the same outcome.
The hole got deeper on the very next play when the new starting quarterback Shaun Hill threw a strike to Kenny Britt for a 63-yard touchdown. Each team followed with uneventful drives before another Rams field goal.
The Broncos bounced back quickly to stem the bleeding with an 80-yard drive that concluded with a 42-yard touchdown to Sanders, who found open pastures behind a discombobulated Rams secondary.
But that quick-strike ability disappeared in second half as the offense struggled to string together plays to keep the team moving down the field and as injuries mounted.
The Broncos' offensive catalyst in Emmanuel Sanders—who had four of the Broncos' eight first downs in the first half, including a touchdown—left the game with a concussion four plays into the second half after a vicious collision between Sanders and Rodney McLeod deep down the right sideline, which also resulted in an unnecessary roughness penalty on McLeod.
The injuries on offense piled up quickly with Sanders joining Julius Thomas, who had an ankle injury, and Montee Ball, who tweaked his recent groin injury, leaving the Broncos without some of their most dangerous offensive weapons.
And though it's easy to put a 'but' on this loss because of the injuries, Head Coach John Fox and Manning both refused to do so, with Fox saying, "We don't make excuses."
"Certainly, hate to see Julius and Emmanuel injured, but I said I don't think that's an excuse," Manning said. "I think that Bubba [Caldwell] and Jacob [Tamme] are both capable of making plenty of plays and I've got to do a better job of giving them a chance to make some plays."
Trying to make their offense move despite the key losses, the Broncos continued to put the ball in the air, but little worked to keep drives alive. The Rams extended their lead to nine in the third quarter, still far from an unsurmountable lead against the Broncos, but their third field goal made the Broncos' deficit a two-possession game.
Hope for a comeback attempt dwindled after two interceptions set the Rams up for field goals on each possession. The deficit, now at 15 points, combined with a running clock and offensive struggles, proved too much to overcome.
"We didn't play very well. That's what it comes down to," Wes Welker said. "We didn't execute the way we needed to execute and we just have to go back to the tape and learn from it and get better from it and move on to the next week."
The Rams' defense also deserves a good deal of credit, of course, putting pressure on Manning with a talented front line of Robert Quinn and rookie Aaron Donald along with strong performances from their secondary as Manning completed 34 of 54 passing attempts.
"The Rams have a good pass rush," Manning said. "They are good on that phase of their defense. And then we throw 54, 50 something times. That's probably not the ideal scenario that you want to take place coming into the game, so I think that plays into their strengths a little bit. [...] I thought they played really well at all three levels: their front and their linebackers and their secondary."
Though the Broncos tried to get their offense going in the passing attack from the early moments, their rushing game never got established, with just 28 yards on the ground.
"Whenever you get one-dimensional, they're teeing off on you," Fox said.
Ultimately the loss evoked a feeling of frustration as the Broncos fell for the third time, each of which came on the road.
"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," Tamme added. "But we've got to get back, watch this film, see what we need to correct and get better off of it."