PHILADELPHIA --Once again, the Broncos' hopes went astray early.
Denver dug itself a two-score hole in the first quarter and never recovered, eventually falling 51-23 to the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
""We got our [butt] kicked. What else needs to be said?" defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "We went out there and got our [butt] kicked. And it's sad, because there's a lot of time and work and blood and sweat invested into this season. To go out and get our [butt] kicked, that really hurts."
The loss, the Broncos' fourth in a row, dropped them to 3-5 at the halfway point of the season.
"It is rock bottom," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "If we don't make the playoffs, that's the worst you can get. We can't afford to let anything else slide -- especially with our division, so we've got to figure something out."
Why did the Broncos fall?
Because penalties and mistakes put the Broncos into an early deficit**
The Eagles sprinted 75 yards to a 32-yard Carson Wentz-to-Alshon Jeffery touchdown on their first series, and two penalties played a key role, accounting for two of the three first downs accumulated by the Eagles before the scoring strike. The second penalty, a holding call against Aqib Talib, wiped out a third-down stop and set up the Wentz-to-Jeffery connection one snap later.
The infractions set the tone for what was to come.
An illegal block above the waist on the subsequent kickoff return forced the Broncos to start their next series at their 8-yard line. From that field position, the offense went nowhere, going three-and-out on a series that saw a false-start penalty push them into third-and-13. Philadelphia took advantage of good field position off the subsequent punt to drive 29 yards to a Jake Elliott field goal and a 10-3 lead.
On Denver's next play from scrimmage, Osweiler was intercepted by Philadelphia cornerback Patrick Robinson. That set up Wentz's second touchdown pass three plays later; Philadelphia led by double digits for the rest of the game.
Even Denver's only scoring drive of the first quarter included a mistake. That march ended in a 52-yard Brandon McManus field goal, but was derailed after a holding penalty sent the Broncos backward after they advanced to the Philadelphia 23-yard line.
The Broncos finished the game with season highs in penalties (14) and penalty yards (105), including seven infractions in the first half. Denver's penalty-yardage total was its worst since Week 15 of the 2015 season -- a 127-yard tally in a loss at Pittsburgh.
"That's unacceptable," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "We can't have those."
The poor early start also forced the Broncos to move away from their running game. Running backs Devontae Booker, C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles combined for just 35 yards on 19 carries -- with 60 percent of the yards coming on the Broncos' first four possessions -- and the Broncos finished with just one rushing first down.
Because the Eagles repeatedly gashed the Broncos on the ground**
The Broncos came into the game having not allowed a rushing touchdown all season, becoming the first NFL defense in three years to achieve that feat. But that statistic went out the window with 1:20 remaining in the first half, when Jay Ajayi burst off left tackle and into the open field for a 46-yard score that extended the Eagles' lead to 31-9.
Ajayi, Corey Clement, LeGarrette Blount and Wendell Smallwood combined for 190 yards on 34 carries as the Eagles became the first team this season to rush for over 150 yards and average more than 5.0 yards per carry against the Broncos.
Clement and Ajayi accounted for four of the Eagles' seven touchdowns as Philadelphia racked up as many trips to the end zone in a single game as the Broncos' defense had allowed in the previous five games combined.
"Stopping the run, that surprised me, in that we couldn't stop the run game," Joseph said. "And that was the bigger issue than the pass game. Defensively, they had a great plan in the run and pass game, and they exposed us."
Because Wentz used his tight ends to maximum effect**
Even with Zach Ertz sidelined because of a hamstring injury, Wentz wasted no time involving tight ends Brent Celek and Trey Burton in the game. He targeted them with his first three attempts, completing two of the passes for 23 yards to to quickly move the Eagles near midfield and get the Eagles out of an early third-and-9 from their 26-yard line.
Burton and Celek finished with 80 yards and a touchdown on five receptions.
Because the Broncos lost the turnover battle
Although this remained an issue, this was only a secondary cause of the defeat, as the game was slipping out of the Broncos' grasp even before Robinson intercepted Osweiler with 1:53 left in the first quarter.
A second interception off Osweiler late in the third quarter on a deep attempt to Demaryius Thomas set up the Eagles' sixth touchdown of the day.
- With two Broncos touchdowns, you score $1 roast beef sandwiches the day after a Broncos game at participating Arby's.
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- Buffalo Wild Wings: If the Broncos make a field goal, you could win a free sharable at Buffalo Wild Wings!