Broncos should expect more offenses to pick up the pace

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Denver Broncos had more than enough blame to go around Sunday after they clumsily turned a 20-0 halftime lead into a somewhat historic 27-23 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

But stepping front and center to accept any and all pointed fingers was the team's defense, a unit that should expect to see more of the up-tempo pace the Vikings showed in the second half.

"Any time you have a 20-point lead, you should win the game," defensive end Shelby Harris said. "That's on the defense. ... I'm not in the business of excuses. I'm in the business of trying to make it right. It sucks. It stings."

"You're not going to win games when you give up a 20-point lead, and defensively, you know, that's just unacceptable," safety Justin Simmons said.

It was the third time in franchise history that the Broncos lost a game after they had a 20-point lead at halftime; in 2013 against the New England Patriots and 1988 against the Raiders were the others. The Broncos came into Sunday's game fourth in the league against the pass, fourth in total defense and sixth in scoring defense. Despite their 3-7 record, they have made life difficult for plenty of quarterbacks and playcallers this season.

But the Vikings, with former Broncos coach Gary Kubiak on one of the headsets, made two significant moves after halftime: They went no-huddle, and they went after cornerbacks Davontae Harris and Duke Dawson Jr.

"You hesitate to do it because you also know that they have Von Miller and a really good pass rush, and you don't want to get into a dropback game with some of the best pass-rushers to ever play," quarterback Kirk Cousins said of the Vikings' two-minute offense. "But it worked, and I don't know if that's because you run play after play after play without huddling and they start to get a little winded and now they don't have the same get-off as they do in the first half when you're huddling every play. I'm not sure."

It worked, even if the Broncos had five sacks. With three road games over the next four weeks, the Broncos can expect to face more hurry-up offenses with opponents not needing to worry about crowd noise.

At halftime, the Vikings had just 47 yards of offense -- that included 14 rushing yards by a team that entered the game third in rushing -- had punted five times and had lost two fumbles. Right from the start in the second half, however, the Vikings played with pace. They scored four touchdowns in four possessions, including an 18-play, 75-yard affair that bridged the third and fourth quarters and included a conversion on third-and-14.

"We had our chances," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. "They completed that one [third-and-14] ... and that shouldn't have happened. That allowed that drive to go. We just couldn't make a play to get off the field there in the second half. Their passing game was better than our pass defense."

Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs did not have a catch in the first half, with cornerback Chris Harris Jr. shadowing him much of the time, but Diggs finished with five catches for 121 yards to go with a 54-yard touchdown.

The touchdown came with Harris in pursuit, but Fangio said Harris was supposed to have help from a safety on the play. Diggs also had a 44-yard catch on the Vikings' first scoring drive of the game, when Cousins saw Davontae Harris matched up on him. Two plays later, Cousins threw a 10-yard scoring pass to Irv Smith Jr. with Davonte Harris again in coverage.

The Broncos had another coverage miscue later in the fourth quarter on the touchdown that gave the Vikings their first lead. Cousins lofted the ball over Dawson to get it to Kyle Rudolph running free with no defenders behind Dawson.

"They just tried to hurry us up and scramble us. We got a little discombobulated," Harris said. "And communication lapsed."

"We just didn't quite get it done," Fangio said. "We haven't gotten over the top well enough yet. ... This game we didn't get it done. We'll eventually get it done, you know. These guys are good guys, they're working their butts off, they enjoy coming to work, they like playing. We'll just keep grinding, and we'll keep pounding, and eventually we'll get through."