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Denver Broncos lose 30-13 to Philadelphia Eagles at Empower Field

Denver Broncos

Denver Broncos running back Melvin Gordon (25) is tackled by Philadelphia Eagles free safety Anthony Harris (28) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

DENVER (AP) — Cornerback Darius Slay returned a fumble 82 yards for a touchdown and rookie DeVonta Smith hauled in two touchdown passes from Jalen Hurts in the Philadelphia Eagles’ 30-13 win over the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

The Eagles (4-6) won for the fourth time on the road and prevented the Broncos (5-5) from sweeping the NFC East teams on their schedule just one week after Denver dominated Dallas in one of the biggest upsets of the season.

The Broncos had trouble punching it in all afternoon, stalling at the Eagles 3, 10 and 11 before Melvin Gordon III took the handoff on fourth-and-1 from the Eagles 23 with the Broncos trailing 20-13 late in the third quarter. He gained the 2 yards necessary for the first down, but he coughed up the football before going down.

Slay scooped the ball from the pile, reversed direction just in front of his 10-yard line and then zig-zagged his way downfield through a smattering of orange jerseys.

Inexplicably, Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater failed to even attempt a tackle, even a halfhearted one, as Slay ran right past him for the game-sealing score.

The Broncos, 1-20 when trailing at halftime under coach Vic Fangio, frittered away several golden opportunities, among them Albert Okwuegbunam’s 64-yard catch-and-run. They stalled at the 3 and settled for a 21-yard field goal by Brandon McManus that tied the game at 10 in the second quarter.

They reached the Eagles 4 on the opening drive of the second half, but McManus’ 22-yard attempt was blocked by safety K’Von Wallace, who sliced through the line untouched just like a Dallas defender did on a punt last week.

When the Eagles turned back the Broncos again, this time at the 11, McManus’ 28-yarder pulled Denver to 20-13.

Justin Simmons’ interception gave Denver the ball at midfield and the chance to tie it. The Broncos again drove deep into Philadelphia territory before Gordon, who scored on a 1-yard run in the first half, fumbled and Slay scooped it and scored.

In the closing minutes, Bridgewater overthrew a wide-open Tim Patrick in the end zone on fourth down.

The Eagles took a 20-10 halftime lead behind Smith’s pair of touchdown catches and two of Jake Elliott’s three field goals.

With offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur out with a COVID-19 infection, Broncos QBs coach Mike Shula called the offensive plays. The first series was a debacle: a 1-yard run, and a drop and a catch for minus-2 yards on two passes behind the line of scrimmage sandwiched by a field goal and a TD by Philadelphia.

Smith hauled in a 36-yard pass from Hurts with fellow first-round draft pick Patrick Surtain II in tight coverage to put Philadelphia ahead 10-0.

The Broncos responded with Gordon’s 1-yard TD run and were on the verge of taking the lead when Okwuegbunam’s 64-yard catch-and-run gave Denver first-and-goal at the Eagles 8. But a season-long struggle in goal-to-go situations continued and the Broncos settled for McManus’ field goal.

Nothing went Denver’s way after that. Philadelphia converted three third downs on a 12-play 75-yard drive capped by Smith’s second TD catch that made it 17-10.

The Broncos went three-and-out but buried the Eagles at their 15 with 1:49 remaining in the half. Hurts drove the Eagles downfield and Elliott connected from 52 yards.

Ground and pound

After relying heavily on passing the first seven games, the Eagles have emphasized the run the last three weeks. They had 236 yards rushing in a 44-6 win over the Lions and 176 in a 27-24 loss to the Chargers. On Sunday, they ran for 214 yards, led by Jordan Howard’s 83 yards on 12 carries.

Injuries

Eagles TE Dallas Goedert left the game with a concussion after an unflagged helmet-to-helmet hit by Simmons on a 24-yard catch that set up the Eagles’ first touchdown. Broncos ILB Baron Browning, the team’s defensive play caller, injured his back on Denver’s second defensive series and didn’t return.

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