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'Terrible' night in all three phases dooms Broncos in Oakland

OAKLAND --In some way, every phase of the team was culpable in the Broncos' first loss at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in nearly six years.

The offense couldn't stay on the field, going three-and-out on its first four series of the 30-20 defeat. The defense couldn't get off the field, only forcing one three-and-out while allowing multiple first downs on nine of 11 possessions prior to a game-ending kneeldown series. The special teams lost potential yardage on three early kickoffs that weren't returned to the 25-yard line, and two penalties on punts that weren't even returned.

"We know how we lost the game: Offense, we didn't do too well. Special teams, we were terrible. Defense, we did terrible," aid CB Chris Harris Jr. "We lost in all three phases."

"It was across the board," added Head Coach Gary Kubiak. "We weren't good enough. We lost the field-position battle all night long; that's special teams. Offensively we got off to a horrible start -- four three-and-outs, then we made some big plays. Defensively we played really good early in the game, and then we give up [218] yards rushing.

"That's the team not playing good enough to win, and that's what I just told the players."

And what makes matters worse is that the Broncos are struggling at the places where the game usually starts: running the football and stopping the run. They could do neither Sunday night, and the game devolved from there.

"It's a concern," Kubiak said. "We gave up 4.8 [yards per carry] to San Diego, but we won the game; we played from the lead. You get behind a team, and they're sitting there pounding that ball like they are -- and they really made big plays in short yardage, if I'm correct; a bunch of short-yardage plays that came busting out.

"It's something that we've got to improve upon, or we're going to have a hard time from a time standpoint; I think we lost the time of possession almost 2-to-1 tonight -- 3 to 1, maybe."

The Broncos didn't even hold the football for 19 minutes, with a time of possession of just 18:52 that was their lowest in at least 25 seasons. Only one other time in that span did they play a game in which they held the football for fewer than 20 minutes of a 60-minute game.

Sunday, Oakland outrushed the Broncos by 185 yards, racking up 218 yards on 43 carries to Denver's 33 yards on 12 carries. It was the Broncos' worst rushing discrepancy in six years, and was a sign of impending doom; the Broncos have never won a game in which they were outrushed by that many yards, losing all 18 times it has happened.

"That's definitely not the mark of a great defense," inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "We can't just get run all over. They only had 170 yards passing, but like 200 yards rushing.

"That was awful."

Denver has enjoyed some bursts of success on the ground this season; as recently as 13 days earlier, they thrashed the Texans for 190 yards on 35 carries. But with C.J. Anderson on injured reserve, the Broncos have struggled, with not even half as many rushing yards in the last two games combined (90) as they had against Houston.

And opponents have gashed the defense with increased consistency and success. Two weeks ago, Houston averaged 5.6 yards a carry, racking up 140 yards on 25 runs, the most damaging of which were shotgun draws. Last week, San Diego's Melvin Gordon became the first 100-yard rusher against the Broncos in 25 games. Sunday night, Latavius Murray made it two in a row, galloping through Denver for 114 yards on 20 carries -- including a 42-yard sprint.

Denver's defense allowed just 83.6 rushing yards per game and 3.3 per carry last year. Those numbers have spiked to 128.6 and 4.4 this season. For a defense that often spoke about its mission of stopping the run first during last year's ride to Super Bowl 50, that is an alarming trend.

"I think we've just got to be more physical," Marshall said. "It's tough because they have a really good O-line, and sometimes guys might get out of their gaps, or we're not shedding blocks quick enough, or aggressively enough.

"We have to do better than that. We have to get back to the drawing board."

They have to get back there, but have little time to do it; the surging Saints are up next, coming off four wins in their last five games.

"We've got to improve [and] get back to work," Kubiak said.

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