Sean Payton is a man in search of his mojo.
Payton never lost five of his first six games during his 15 seasons as the New Orleans Saints coach and the Denver Broncos have never started out worse than the 1-5 record they brought back home after their latest loss to Kansas City.
Payton’s play-calling and the Broncos’ execution weren’t good enough to capitalize on a suddenly stout Denver defense that limited Patrick Mahomes to a single touchdown drive Thursday night.
The result was a 16th consecutive loss to Andy Reid and the Chiefs (5-1), this time by a score of 19-8.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has taken plenty of heat with the Broncos dead last in several statistical categories so far, and Payton deserves similar scrutiny after the Broncos’ bumbling offensive performance at Arrowhead Stadium on a night the Chiefs seemed ripe for an upset.
Russell Wilson threw for a meager 95 yards, the third-lowest total of his 195 career NFL starts, including playoffs. The only worse outings — 77 yards against the Vikings in 2018 and 93 yards against the Cowboys in 2017 — both came in Seattle victories.
In 10 drives, the Broncos scored one time, punted five times and turned the ball over twice on interceptions and once each on downs and a fumble.
Receiver Jerry Jeudy had two catches for only a single yard in the first half and finished with 14 yards on three catches.
That was better than rookie Marvin Mims Jr., by far the Broncos’ most productive receiver, who wasn’t targeted a single time in Kansas City.
Payton, whose scathing criticisms of his predecessor, New York Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, backfired in a 31-21 loss last week, goofed on the Broncos’ final possession before halftime, which led to a Harrison Butker field goal that pushed Kansas City’s lead to 13-0.
The Broncos got the ball with 47 seconds left in the first half and were facing third-and-5 from their 44 when they used their second timeout. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey was beaten by Chris Jones, who sacked Wilson for a 7-yard loss with 22 seconds left before halftime.
Losing track of downs, Payton called his final timeout.
“That’s a boneheaded mistake by me,” Payton said. “They were calling one as well, and I’m off by a down, but that was stupid.”
While the Chiefs would have called a timeout anyway at that point, the gaffe highlighted Denver’s discombobulated offensive operation that produced just 197 yards.
Then, Riley Dixon‘s punt into a stiff wind traveled just 29 yards, and rookie defensive back Riley Moss touched the ball first after running out of bounds as a gunner, giving the Chiefs another 5 yards.
Butker’s 60-yard field goal as the first half expired would come into focus in the fourth quarter when the Broncos pulled to within 16-8 only to allow Butker’s 52-yarder with 1:55 left that restored the Chiefs’ two-score advantage.
“It’s a three-point swing there, but there are so many other things that jump into my mind relative to opportunities missed,” Payton said, alluding primarily to the static passing attack that wasted Denver’s good ground game and stellar red-zone defense.
The Broncos aren’t only in search of answers but of chemistry between the new coaching staff and the retooled roster. It’s hard to envision the Broncos players rallying around Payton the way the Jets had Hackett’s back last weekend in Denver after Payton took needless shots that fired up an opponent.
As McGlinchey said of Payton earlier this month, “He’s still learning us, and we’re still learning him.”
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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