Coming off an embarrassing Monday night loss to Cincinnati, the Denver Broncos were anxious to return to the friendly confines of Dove Valley, and begin preparation on the various ways to stop Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons.
Unfortunately for Denver, preparation and performance don't always go hand in hand.
Vick, coming off last week's 56-10 embarrassment to the Kansas City Chiefs, ran effortlessly around an off-balanced Broncos defense, picking up 115-yards as the games leading rusher, while also connecting on 18 of 24 passes for 252-yards, including two touchdowns to Peerless Price in a 41-28 victory.
"I guess we were just Vick-tomized," a tired Kenoy Kennedy said jokingly.
Considering the fact that Vick was personally responsible for 367-yards, it hardly seemed a joke.
The Broncos were powerless to stop Vick, as Atlanta reeled off 35 straight points, countering Denver's early 14-3 lead. During the stretch, the Broncos defense struggled in all aspects, giving up two scoring drives of 60-yards, plus one each from 61, 21 and 83-yards.
"I don't think there's another athlete like him that's ever played the game," admitted Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan. "It's really a credit to a great athlete that kind of took the game under control, run the football, and obviously, throw the football well when he had to throw it."
When it wasn't Michael Vick doing the damage, it was the Broncos themselves, committing three turnovers, all of which came by way of Falcon interceptions. The miscues negated what turned out to be a career day for Jake Plummer, who finished with 31 of 55 passes for 499-yards, including four touchdowns.
Plummer's passing total not only set a personal best, it also set a franchise record and is currently the best mark by an NFL quarterback this season, unfortunately it was all overshadowed by the high-flying Michael Vick Experience.
"If I had thrown for 2 yards and we'd won, I'd be the happiest guy in here right now," said Plummer. "When you turn the ball over early, it puts you behind the eight-ball. We just killed ourselves, and the penalties really hurt us. I don't even care what numbers I put up, we lost."
Ironically, those numbers could have easily been higher, but Denver continually shot themselves in the foot with penalties, giving up 70-yards on nine separate calls.
During a third quarter stretch alone Denver found a 24-yard gain to the Atlanta 15-yard line brought back by a tripping penalty, a first down completion to Ashley Lelie brought back by a false start, a first down run by Reuben Droughns brought back on a holding call and an illegal forward pass penalty on Plummer, which moved the Broncos past the point of what could have been a Jason Elam field goal.
"Anytime you have 75 or 80-yards called back in penalties, with holding calls and some false starts and those type of things, you can't do that and win," said Shanahan. "Especially when you turn the football over."
In between the turnovers and the penalties, Denver's running game hit a wall, setting a new season low with only sixty-eight total rushing yards, forty-nine of which came off fifteen Reuben Droughns runs. No other Broncos rusher had more than 10-yards for the game.
"The key when you come to Denver is to stop the run or at least slow down the run, said Falcons head coach Jim Mora. "I think we did that to an extent today."
"We were playing good for a second and then we would kill ourselves every single time," said Droughns. "Any time you have losses back-to-back it's very embarrassing, ….but we can't question ourselves, we just have to keep fighting."
Today's turnovers now move the mark to nine interceptions through the first seven games, a fact that does not sit well with the Broncos coaching staff.
"Jake will be the first one to tell you that you can't turn the football over in the National Football League and win. You lose the turnover battle, and you're going to consistently lose."
So far, that appears to be the case, as consecutive losses now move Denver into a first place tie with the San Diego Chargers in the AFC West, with identical 5-3 records. Kansas City's 45-35 win over Indianapolis tightens the division even further, as they continue the momentum of back to back victories.
We can't worry about those teams [AFC rivals], said Droughns. "This [Broncos] is the team to focus on, and it's about us. We control what we do, so it'll all fall into place if we take the right steps to make it work."
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