When it comes to grit and fighting the good football fight, the Denver Broncos have checked the boxes for much of this season.
But after another "this close" loss -- 19-16 to the Los Angeles Chargers -- dropped the Broncos to 5-10 on Sunday, coach Vic Fangio said that no matter who's injured or not available, the next step -- the one that matters the most -- is for the Broncos to turn effort into wins.
"I think that reflects well on the team -- their effort, their toughness, their resiliency,'' Fangio said, "but we've got to start making the plays and not do the things that cause you to lose a game like that."
There were many of those things Sunday. The Broncos surrendered a 53-yard kickoff return to open the game. The offense turned 10 possessions into just one touchdown. Quarterback Drew Lock threw an interception in the Chargers' end zone when he tried to jam the ball where there was no room available. Brandon McManus missed a field goal attempt. The Broncos' defense -- which held the Chargers in check for much of the day -- allowed Austin Ekeler to break off runs of 11 and 23 yards on the game-winning drive in the closing minutes.
It added up to a three-point loss despite the Broncos outgaining the Chargers 396-316, running 22 more plays on offense and holding the ball for six minutes longer.
"You can't give up [an] opening kickoff where they return it deep in our end for a field goal; we've got to make our field goals; we've got to catch a ball when it's thrown to us; we've got to throw the ball more accurately at times; we've got to play receivers tighter no matter who's playing corner and not just play scared; we've got to tackle when we have the opportunity to tackle; we've got to do all the things winning teams do," Fangio said. "But I'm proud of the guys we have, proud of their effort, their toughness, resilience, but we've got to do things better."
The Broncos opened the game with a 14-play drive that should have resulted in points, but Lock threw a he-knows-better interception to end that threat. They followed that with a 12-play drive that ended with McManus' missed field goal attempt.
McManus actually missed twice, hitting the same left upright on each miss, but the first one was negated by a Chargers penalty. And the Chargers escaped it all with a 3-0 lead that became 13-0 by halftime before the Broncos were able to create a close game.
"Well, they ended up with the ball in their hand. That's what I saw at the end of it and that's what we can't have happen," said Lock of his first interception. "... It's one of those plays I've got to get out of me."
"Day 1 you talk to him about that, not just lately," Fangio said. "You can't throw red zone interceptions, especially one where there really wasn't that much there, or throw it sloppily out there. If you try to hammer one in there and the defense makes a great play, that's one thing. But if you make a bad choice, that's another thing."
The Broncos were undermanned Sunday -- running back Phillip Lindsay became the team's 13th player on injured reserve this past week -- but Fangio still used his bench at times to make a point.
Fangio benched cornerback De'Vante Bausby twice in the game for tackling issues, eventually putting Parnell Motley in the lineup. Motley was signed off the 49ers' practice squad in recent weeks and practiced for the first time with the Broncos on Wednesday.
"Well, I didn't like the way Bausby was tackling, OK, or not tackling," Fangio said. "I took him out earlier in the game, he begged for another chance, I gave it to him and he totally flagged on another tackle in the second half."
Even Motley, whom Fangio complimented for his effort, didn't escape criticism, as the coach added, "He played too soft [in coverage] on the last drive."
Rookie wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who dropped five passes in the game, including a potential second-half touchdown, was also on the field for the final play as the Broncos attempted a Hail Mary into the Chargers' end zone. Jeudy said he had "never" had a game like that at any level of football and called it "unacceptable."
At one point in the second half, as the Broncos tried to overcome their earlier work, Lock spoke with Jeudy in the Broncos' bench area, two young players trying to find the results that have eluded them more often than they're used to.
"I told him that he's just too good to hang his head and too good to be upset," Lock said. "There's a lot of opportunities for me to hang my head this year, and it's all about how you respond, how you get back up, and I know Jerry has been so good to this point that this might be one of the first times he's struggled. It takes a guy that's struggled a few times here and there to maybe go up and say something him."