Only the special teams practiced on Monday as the Broncos attempted to rapidly turned their focus away from the San Diego Chargers and on to the Kansas City Chiefs.
But for the kickoff-coverage units, putting Sunday night behind them proved to be a difficult task after Michael Turner singed them for 36.5 yards per kickoff return, allowing the Chargers to start second-half drives from their 40- and 45-yard-lines, which helped set up two of the four second-half touchdowns that doomed the Broncos to a 35-27 defeat.
“Obviously you can’t quite shake it off,” said fullback Kyle Johnson. “This is the kind of day when you’re sort of feeling it emotionally.”
“We’ve got to do a better job in all areas (of special teams),” Head Coach Mike Shanahan said. “Better job coaching, got to do a better job playing (and) I’ve got to do a better job demanding more. It starts with me.”
Longtime special-teams captain Keith Burns felt the blame should be shouldered in the locker room.
“For us to give up that type of yardage … it baffles me,” he said, “but like I say, it all comes back to me and the guys in this locker room.”
Sunday’s numbers were part of a worrisome trend for the Broncos, who have allowed an average of 28.1 yards per kickoff return since holding Baltimore’s special teams — led by returner B.J. Sams — to just 18.7 yards per kickoff return in a 13-3 Monday Night Football win on Oct. 9.
Meanwhile, kickoff specialist/punter Paul Ernster has the NFL’s highest touchback percentage since that night, drilling 32.4 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks (11 out of 34). His average of 68.8 yards per kickoff is also the league’s highest in that span, and he’s sent 21 of his 34 kickoffs since Week 5 to the end zone.
Injuries on the units didn’t help matters Sunday night, and with Dante Hall and the Chiefs next on the Broncos’ slate, a sense of urgency dominates.
“I think any time you lose a guy like Darrent Williams, you lose a guy like Nick Ferguson, all of a sudden you’re piecemealing guys back and forth,” Shanahan said. “A couple other guys went out for a couple plays. When I look at the special teams, it just takes one or two guys here and there. You kind of forgot about the injuries during the game, but we’ve still got to be better than we were.”
But Burns sees the solution resting not in an infusion of healthy players, but an alteration in attitude.
“Any time you cover, it’s all about want-to,” he said. “If you don’t want to be blocked, you can’t be blocked, and you’ve got to have that mindset, that mentality.”