DENVER — On a cloudy, lazy Sunday afternoon in our Mile High City, it wasn’t easy for the Denver Broncos to find a bright side.
But it was there.
Look at it this way: The Broncos don’t have to worry about a quarterback controversy. They don’t have to worry about managing expectations. They shouldn’t have to ever worry again about overconfidence.
If it’s possible, Paxton Lynch needs to quickly forget his NFL starting debut as his Broncos were whipped by the Atlanta Falcons and their versatile running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman, 23-16, here Sunday at soon-to-be-renamed Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
The Falcons from the NFC are now 4-1 with four consecutive wins. The Broncos of the AFC are 4-1 and will try to regroup in time to play the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on Thursday night.
While blame can be distributed in various degrees to all 46 players who dressed in the Broncos’ first loss of the season – and first loss in 10 games, dating back to Dec. 20, 2015 – it was clear the speed of an NFL game moved a little fast for the rookie Lynch. He was replacing Trevor Siemian who had been the starter as the Broncos built a 4-0 record but a left shoulder injury knocked him out of this game.
Lynch got little going until he took advantage of Atlanta’s prevent defense in the fourth quarter. The Falcons were up 23-6 before they reverted to a soft zone and Lynch marched his team on a 16-play drive that ended with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.
At that point, though, there was just 2:38 left in the game. Lynch finished 23 of 35 for 223 yards, one touchdown and one interception. But again, much of that production came in “garbage time.’’
Atlanta’s defense entered the game ranked 30th in the 32-team league, in large part because it registered just four sacks in its first four games. But the Falcons discovered a savory cocktail in Lynch’s inexperience with feeling the pressure of a pass rush and the struggles of right tackle Ty Sambrailo.
Lynch was sacked six times in this game alone, with Vic Beasley in on 3.5 of them. Beasley beat Sambrailo much of the day until the Broncos’ coaching staff pulled their second-year tackle in the fourth quarter.
The Falcons got just two catches for 29 yards from star receiver Julio Jones – who had 300 yards receiving last week against Carolina – but this is an offense with multiple weapons.
Including two at running back.
Freeman and Coleman combined for a whopping 286 yards from scrimmage on 119 yards rushing, 167 yards receiving and the Falcons’ two touchdowns.