Englewood, Colo. — The Denver Broncos aren't holding onto the ball or stuffing the run, the two things that kept them out of the playoffs the past two years and are threatening to derail their quest to return to the postseason.
The high-octane scoring machine that started the season with three straight slugfests has sputtered to a halt. The defense that couldn't stop anybody still can't.
"It's not time to panic," wide receiver Brandon Marshall said in the afterglow of New England's 41-7 rout of Denver on Monday night. "But it's definitely time to worry."
¢ About their careless manner with the football.
¢ About their undisciplined defense that makes backups look like stars.
¢ About their growing list of injuries to their best players.
¢ About their missed assignments and tackles.
"We have to decide what kind of team we want to be," quarterback Jay Cutler said.
The one that averaged 38 points over the first three weeks or the one managing 14 per game over the past month. The one that left opponents red-faced early on or the one that's left itself embarrassed of late.
The Broncos (4-3) are still in first place in the middling AFC West, but three losses in their past four games show they're only there by default, having failed to take advantage of the San Diego Chargers' erosion.
The Broncos turned the ball over six times to the Patriots, and backup running back Andre Hall ignited the rout by fumbling the ball on his only two carries, killing promising early drives along with Denver's chances. This, after coach Mike Shanahan harped for days about taking care of the football and Marshall even spent the week toting one under his arm.
"It was embarrassing," Hall said.
Denver has a dozen turnovers in its three losses. Marshall said he's not going to talk about it anymore, and Cutler, who was picked off twice by the Patriots, is at a loss for a fix.
"I don't know. You tell me," he said.