Sean Payton didn’t just quit on Broncos. He quit on Broncos Country.

DETROIT — Arrogant. Prickly. Defensive. Petty. Paranoid. But who knew Sean Payton was a quitter, too?

“They were close. The problem is, they were right at that (borderline),” the Broncos coach said of the challenge flags that were apparently too heavy for the wee man to hurl Saturday night at Ford Field.

“You know, when you start challenging spots, it becomes difficult. The frustrating part of the sequence was the next (fourth-down) run. We’ll leave it at that.”

No. No, we won’t.

The frustrating part of the sequence was that the Broncos scored a touchdown three times, down 28-7 against playoff-bound Detroit, and came away with all of three points to show for it.

The frustrating part of the sequence is that even if Javonte Williams’ knee was down on third-and-goal from the 1 before he broke the plane, it shouldn’t have mattered. Because Jaleel McLaughlin was already in for a score on a second-and-goal from the 9 on the play immediately prior.

The frustrating part of the sequence is that rather than challenging either of those borderline and reviewable moments, Payton was more concerned with going all mama badger on Russell Wilson in front of a national television audience.

The frustrating part of the sequence is that after a bogus offsides penalty on guard Quinn Meinerz turned multiple touchdowns into fourth-and-goal at the Lions 5, Teflon Sean, down 21 to a good team, elected to kick a meaningless 23-yard field goal.

With 46 seconds left in the third quarter.

On the road.

Against an offense that your defense had shown few signs of stopping.

The frustrating part of the sequence is that, although Payton had 15 minutes and change left to play with, instead of throwing a red flag, the man threw in the towel. With his 7-6 team in the middle of a playoff chase.

“Yeah, that was tough,” Broncos right tackle Mike McGlinchey said of the Lions’ 42-17 whupping.

“I don’t know that it had any bearing on the outcome of the game, but yeah, you’ve got to punch that in. You can’t leave that up to a judgement call. You’ve got to make that clear and obvious and get that done (in the red zone).”

The frustrating part of the sequence is that Payton’s Obi Wan Kenobi got absolutely lapped by Dan Campbell’s Anakin Skywalker.

Literally, in most cases. The 7-7 Broncos are brash but blemished, the sort of team the AFC elite are secretly rooting to see crash the party as a No. 7 seed because of nights just like the one that fried our retinas in the Motor City.

Because what kryptonite is to Superman, speed is to the Broncos. It’s the NFL’s worst-kept secret: The Orange & Blue can bang with any roster in the circuit. But, Lord help ’em, they can’t keep up with the swifter ones. If the Dolphins are a Jaguar, the Lions are a Lambo, especially on Ford Field’s fast track.

“Listen, we knew they had good speed,” Payton said. “But certainly we hoped to play better.”

The frustrating part of the sequence is that when the scribes dared to ask Payton why he released half a Woody Hayes on Big Russ (who wasn’t great, granted), Baby Bill Parcells said he was “upset about the (off-sides) call … listen: What I talk with Russell about is none of your Business.”

The frustrating part of the sequence is that the coach’s first sentence was probably a bald-faced fib.

And even if what Payton says to Wilson is somehow redacted under the auspices of “quarterback-coach privilege,” how he talks with the Big Russ? It’s all of Broncos Country’s Business.

Because that relationship, and Baby Bill’s comfort level with it relative to Wilson’s contract, is the lodestone that could save a franchise. Or sink it.

“Yeah,” Russ said when I asked if he felt he had Payton’s trust. “I mean, of course (I do). I think the biggest thing is, we’re trying to score a touchdown there … that’s our focus.

“You want to have a coach that’s passionate. And players that are too … and everything else. And so, we wanted to score a touchdown (there).”

The Riverboat Gambler settled for three.

I mean, if the point was to put as little on film as possible in advance of the last three winnable tussles against the Patriots, Chargers and Raiders, mission accomplished. But that doesn’t make it any less of a lousy flight plan. A loser’s flight plan.

“I think my biggest thing is always trying to focus on the next play,” Wilson said. “And unfortunately, those few (goal-line) plays … (we) didn’t get the touchdowns there. So that was the unfortunate part.”

It had plenty of company. In hindsight, maybe there’s a reason Payton didn’t toss a red flag when he had multiple chances. He was too busy reaching for the white one.

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