<
>

Broncos squander 20-point lead for latest low in troubled season

MINNEAPOLIS -- At some point, the Denver Broncos will perhaps talk about all of the character they earned in one soul-crushing loss after another in the season that was 2019. But that will be for another day, given that they piled a little more misery on their season on Sunday, wasting a 20-0 halftime lead in a 27-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The Broncos held the Vikings to fewer than 50 yards of offense and had largely pulled out most of the stops in the first half, only to watch it all crumble around them in a second half filled with a mess of their own making in a troubled season.

And it wasn't decided until quarterback Brandon Allen threw an incompletion toward tight end Noah Fant on the game's final play.

Two words: Not. Again. The Broncos scratch, they claw, they show far more vocational character than plenty of other teams that have been in their position, including some that have preceded them in the same uniforms. But not good enough is not good enough. Going into Sunday, the Broncos had lost three games this season in the final 22 seconds of a game, including two losses on the game's final play. Sunday it was more of a chip-chip-chip-away affair as the Vikings spent the second half finding the right matchups against the Broncos' defense. Denver was simply unable to crank up much of anything on offense after halftime until its final drive that finished the game at the Vikings' 4-yard line.

Troubling trend: The Broncos like putting cornerback Chris Harris Jr. on the offense's best receiver because their defense is at its best when they can do it. Over and over again, coach Vic Fangio has put Harris on the likes of T.Y. Hilton, Keenan Allen, Tyreek Hill and Odell Beckham Jr. with far more benefit than issues. And in the early going Sunday, when the Broncos could get Harris on the Vikings' Stefon Diggs, things went according to plan. But the Vikings kept adjusting things in the formation, and eventually they matched up Diggs with other Broncos defensive backs, including Davontae Harris for a 44-yard gain in the third quarter for the Vikings' first touchdown drive of the game. Later, Diggs also shook loose of Harris for a 54-yard touchdown with 10:21 left in the fourth quarter.

But throughout the second half, Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins consistently went after the other defensive backs, including Harris and cornerback Duke Dawson. The Broncos had made it more difficult to do that in recent weeks, but it will need some attention again.

QB breakdown: Except for an ill-advised red zone interception late in the first half, Brandon Allen largely avoided the hit-the-road mistake. He has shown some mobility when he needs to get out of trouble, and the Broncos have been willing to try some different things to get him space in the pocket. But Sunday was another example of his biggest hurdle to keep the gig -- he has to find a way to make a play or two after the defense has made its adjustments. As the Vikings continued to deal with the unscouted looks the Broncos gave them, Allen had far more difficulty keeping the offense moving. But his grit in the final minutes, including some difficult conversions, was again proof of the moxie his teammates have said he has.

Pivotal play: The 54-yarder from Cousins to Diggs hurt all the more since it was straight out of the Mike Shanahan collection as taught to Gary Kubiak, who is now an assistant coach in Minnesota. Cousins rolled left with the play-action to the right, and Diggs was isolated in plenty of space for the score. Fangio said Harris was supposed to have safety help on the play. It cut the Broncos' lead to 23-20 and gave what had been a surly home crowd reason to rev it up once again.