ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Since the Denver Broncos suffered their first loss of the season to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, there has been discussion outside the team’s walls that the Falcons cracked the code on the Broncos’ swirling, quarterback-harassing defense.
Tevin Coleman finished with 132 yards receiving, to go with 31 yards rushing, while Devonta Freeman added 88 yards rushing and 35 yards receiving. Toss in fullback Patrick DiMarco’s 14-yard catch and the Atlanta running backs accounted for 299 of the team's 372 yards of offense as well as both touchdowns.
Now the Broncos will get to show if it was just one of those days or if it is a blueprint for others to use.
“We just had a tough day on Sunday,’’ linebacker Von Miller said. “Every team doesn’t have a Devonta Freeman and a Coleman, a running back tandem. They’re not going to go for 88 yards rushing and the other guy go for (132) yards receiving. It’s just not going to happen week in, week out.’’
Still, it all has a sliver of déjà vu working from a similar outing last season. On Dec. 20, in Heinz Field, the Broncos couldn’t hold a 27-10 first-half lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that would close out the regular season at or near the top in every significant category.
Antonio Brown had 189 yards receiving and the Steelers put together three second-half touchdown drives.
“But we were able to rally and how we finished the season, that’s history,’’ Miller said.
The Broncos, whose loss to Atlanta was their first since that game in Pittsburgh, will look to rebound on a short week. They'll head to San Diego for a Thursday night game, their first this season versus an AFC West opponent.
And despite running back Danny Woodhead being on injured reserve -- Woodhead is a upper-tier pass-catcher at running back -- the Chargers still figure to at least kick the tires on at least a little of what the Falcons did. San Diego running back Melvin Gordon has 14 receptions this season and one receiving touchdown.
That’s not the kind of impact the Falcons have had at the position in the passing game thus far, but the Broncos still expect to see some attempted copycats as they continue to move through their season.
“Not everybody has those kind of players,’’ Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “But we didn’t play our game and really we kept [the Falcons] from scoring anywhere close to what they were scoring. We can play a lot better, we know it.’’
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said the Broncos used largely the same plan against running backs in the pass pattern that they used against the New England Patriots in last season's AFC Championship Game. During the 2015 regular season, the Patriots got their running backs involved as Brandon Bolden had 84 yards receiving.
But three weeks later, in the AFC Championship Game, Bolden had just two catches for 29 yards and James White, whom Patriots quarterback Tom Brady targeted in 16 times, finished with five catches for 45 yards.
“We did the same thing [Sunday] against New England,’’ Phillips said. “ … We played pretty much the same stuff we played against New England in the championship game and I think we won. We just didn’t play it as well this time.’’
Asked if it was a talent deficit with the Falcons’ running backs, Phillips simply said: “I think we could have played better. I always think that.’’
The Broncos do face the Patriots later this season, but the Broncos say they’re ready for any team to try and pull a repeat of Atlanta’s plan.
“It was something that happened. They got it on us on Sunday,’’ Miller said. “It was that Sunday, one day out of the month, one game.’’