DENVER — In a schedule that was tougher than any in the league heading into the season, the Denver Broncos were handed a rare “cupcake” game on Sunday night against the then-winless New York Giants.
Instead of eating the cake and handing the Giants their sixth loss of the season in the process, New York made Sports Authority Field at Mile High their temporary home for the evening and looked like the Super Bowl contenders they were projected to be entering the season. Dominating the Broncos on their way to a 23-10 victory.
“I'm really pissed off because we didn't overlook this team,” defensive end Derek Wolfe said postgame while trying to comprehend what transpired just minutes before. “It wasn't like, 'Oh, they're 0-5, we're gonna overlook them.' No, we were like, 'Hey, these guys are a good team, we have to go out here and play our best.' We didn't play our best and that's why I'm pissed.”
In reality, however, it didn’t seem like a 3-1 team needed to play their best to beat the Giants—who were one of three teams in the NFL searching for their first win of the season entering Sunday night. New York wasn’t just an oh-fer team entering Week 6, they were depleted—down seven starters from their Week 1 opening day roster—and seemingly in a drastic downward spiral.
Perhaps the worst news of the embarrassing loss on national television was the Broncos weren’t caught off guard by the Giants—they were just flat out beat. Throughout the week leading up to the Week 6 matchup, Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph praised the team’s preparation, even calling Wednesday’s practice the “best Wednesday of the year.”
In his short postgame press conference, Joseph again circled back around to the team’s “great” week of preparation, as he, too, searched for answers in the room filled with media members.
"It just wasn't there,” Wolfe said in a flabbergasted locker room after the game. “ It wasn't there and I felt like it was there. I felt like in pregame, going through warmups and last night in the meetings, I felt like all week long we were ready to go. We were preparing well for this team, we were going to play our best football game, I really thought we were going to do that and it just shows you—sometimes it's just not your day, man.”
In the MLB, the NBA and the NHL, it’s acceptable, and understandable, for teams to have games where it’s just “not your day.” However, in the NFL with a much smaller sample size, only 16 games, off games can’t, and shouldn’t, be dismissed as easily.
In the case of the Broncos, in the past month, both of their losses—including the Week 3 loss to the Buffalo Bills—have been to teams who have been viewed as inferior opponents entering the game, thus fairly raising the question: just how good are the Broncos? Sitting at 3-2 on the season, the jury is still out, but Sunday night’s performance was ugly.
“We just got our ass kicked tonight. I don’t know what else to say. It’s plain and simple. It was bad execution and bad football. It’s on us,” running back C.J. Anderson said after the Broncos rushed for a season-low 46 yards on the ground. “It’s pathetic right now… We’re relying on the defense to make a play and that’s just terrible. It’s terrible football and we’re not helping our team that way.”
Through the conclusion of Sunday, Denver’s five opponents they’ve faced have a combined record of 10-18—suggesting that Denver’s tough schedule might not actually be that tough after all, and bringing into question if their 3-2 record is as impressive as originally thought.
“It’s not about who you’ve got playing for you, how many stars are in the game or what the team looks like. Any given Sunday, you’ve got to be on. Any given Sunday you could lose. Tonight just wasn’t our night. We lost,” outside linebacker Von Miller said after the game. “There really aren’t any scrubs that are on the grass on Sundays. They put together a great game plan and we lost.”
Although every player in the NFL is talented, the Giants had multiple players on the field on Sunday that weren’t on an any team’s active roster just a week ago. While “scrub” wouldn’t be an appropriate word for any NFL player—as the league is a compilation of the best players in the world—Denver was equipped with more talent than the Giants, or at least that was the idea heading into the game.
“They just kind of got after us tonight,” linebacker Todd Davis said stone-faced.
What was supposed to be a blowout on Sunday night turned out to be just that, just delivered by the opposite team. Since by all accounts Denver wasn’t trapped, or surprised, by the Giants, could it mean the team just simply isn’t as good as they were originally believed to be moments before kickoff? Perhaps.
With three consecutive road games directly ahead, we're about to find out real quick.