DENVER – It was always going to be a tough ask of the Detroit Lions, who are dealing with simultaneous flu and COVID-19 outbreaks that altered their preparation, to travel out west and beat a Broncos team that has to treat the rest of their regular season like the playoffs.
Detroit was missing a number of key contributors on both sides of the ball due to injury and illness, and simply didn't have the firepower necessary to hang with Denver for 60 minutes, falling to the Broncos 38-10.
It was ultimately four big plays that went against Detroit that loomed large in the final outcome: A fumble and turnover on downs inside the Lions' 40 that led to two Broncos touchdowns, a failed fourth and goal early in the fourth quarter and a Jared Goff interception midway through fourth quarter at the Broncos' 12-yard line.
Denver jumped out to a 14-0 lead scoring on each of their first two possessions that were capped off by short touchdown runs by running backs Javonte Williams (5 yards) and Melvin Gordon III (1 yard).
Detroit would answer back with an 11-yard touchdown pass from Goff to wide receiver Kalif Raymond on their second possession, set up by a 35-yard run by Craig Reynolds.
But after trading fields to go to the half with Denver up 17-10, Detroit running back Godwin Igwebuike fumbled on the second play of the second half, and it was recovered by Broncos linebacker Jonathon Cooper at the Lions' 36-yard line. Five plays later the Broncos were in the end zone on a 10-yard pass from quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to Williams to increase the lead to 24-10.
On the ensuing possession, Detroit failed to convert a 4th and 2 at their own 33-yard line, giving the Broncos terrific field position again and leading to Gordon's second touchdown run of the game, this one from 14 yards to extend the lead to 31-10.
A failed fourth and goal and Goff interception in the fourth quarter thwarted any comeback attempt.
Denver put an exclamation point on the win with a late 4-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to tight end Albert Okwuegbunam to extend the lead to 38-10 with less than two minutes remaining.
QB comparison: Goff was without his two top pass catchers in this one with tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back D'Andre Swift both inactive due to injury. Goff battled, and led a few nice drives, but fell short after completing 24-of-39 passes for 215 yards with one touchdown and an interception for a passer rating of 76.1.
Bridgewater completed 18 of his 25 passes for 179 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. He finished with a 118.6 passer rating.
View photos from Detroit Lions vs. Denver Broncos Week 14 game at Empower Field on Sunday, Dec. 12 in Denver, CO.
Key moment: Trailing 24-10 midway through the third quarter, Detroit faced a 4th and 2 at their own 33-yard line. Lions head coach Dan Campbell chose the aggressive route down two scores and went for the first down. The Lions converted a 4th and 1 earlier in the game on a Goff to Raymond throw.
This time, however, Goff's pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage by Broncos defensive end Dre'Mont Jones. Denver's offense took over at the Lions' 33-yard line and needed just four plays to reach the end zone on a Gordon 14-yard run.
Instead of converting there and maybe going down and scoring points to cut into the lead or punting and hoping for a defensive stand, the worst possible outcome happened and the Lions found themselves down three scores in the third quarter.
Injury report: The Lions were already thin at cornerback due to injury and Ifeatu Melifonwu and Bobby Price being placed on Reserve/COVID-19, so the Lions couldn't afford an injury there, but that's exactly what happened when Jerry Jacobs went down on the first defensive series of the game with what appears to be a significant knee injury. The Lions immediately ruled him out for the rest of the game after carting him to the locker room.
Linebacker Alex Anzalone injured his ankle in the first half and did not return.
Next week: vs. Arizona (10-2)