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Broncos stunned in overtime loss that leaves Orange Rush defense with red faces

Broncos stunned in overtime loss that leaves Orange Rush defense with red faces
Posted at 10:31 PM, Nov 27, 2016

DENVER -- Linebacker Brandon Marshall listened to the question, then tried not to roll his eyes.

"We should have won that game, hands down," Marshall told Denver7. "There's no way we should have lost. Now we are sitting here sick."

The Broncos will replay the film in their heads Sunday night, and good luck trying to sleep. They wake up Monday in third place in the AFC West, the final five games no longer about winning the division but securing a slippery playoff berth.

This was supposed to be a story about a young quarterback emerging from a protective cocoon, letting down his hair and going to the air. This was going to be a story about Von Miller and the Orange Rush spoiling another quarterback's stats.

And then it wasn't. 

The Broncos showed there is an expiration date on unlikely wins, and improbable finishes. In one of the league's most memorable games this season, the Broncos would like to forget how they squandered an eight-point lead with three minutes remaining before stumbling 30-27 in overtime as Cairo Santos' 34-yard field goal ricocheted off the left upright and through the goal posts. 

It was set up by Brandon McManus' failed 62-yard attempt moments earlier when Broncos coach Gary Kubiak weighed going for the tie. He chose McManus, who said his range was 68 yards in pregame. McManus hit the ground with his foot before the kick. Moments later, the hearts of Broncos' fans plunged from their throats to their feet.

"For the second straight game, we had a mental breakdown. I don't know why it happened," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "That was on us. We've got to be able to finish that game. That's what they pay us to do. We have to close out."

This game strained credulity, going from horribly dark for the Broncos to hopefully bliss to numbingly bleak. The Broncos sit at 7-4, needing to pull together to hold off the Miami Dolphins, led by former Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers for one of the final postseason berths. It doesn't get any easier with road games remaining at Jacksonville, Tennessee and Kansas City.

"We did everything to lose, and we did," said linebacker Von Miller to Denver7 after his three-sack, nine-tackle performance. "We have been on the other end of many games like this. Now, we have to rebound."

The Broncos' locker room represented a blend of anger and resilience. They aren't about to concede anything. But this loss stung. It unraveled in unlikely fashion with the offense scoring an unexpected touchdown. Leading 17-16, the Broncos took over at their 4-yard line with 5:37 remaining. Siemian, who played like "a champ," according to Kubiak, hit tight end A.J. Derby for a 13-yard gain and then scrambled for 14 yards. He was too good for his own good. Siemian connected with receiver Bennie Fowler on a 76-yard touchdown. It was the worst thing that could have happened, odd as that sounds.

Let me explain. Had Fowler gone say 55 yards and been tackled, the drive could have consumed more time, spawning desperation from Kansas City. Instead, the Broncos moved ahead 24-16 with 3:12 left. The defense required one last stand on a night when it was compromised by a lacking offense in the first half and porous special teams coverage throughout. 

For once, the defense left with hands over its eyes instead of arms raised in triumphant.

"It's a tough feeling. Really tough," linebacker Shane Ray said.

The Chiefs drove 75 yards in 13 plays. The Broncos committed three penalties. They yielded a first down on fourth-and-10 with 19 seconds remaining. They couldn't stop Tyreek Hill. He caught a short pass and stretched toward the goal line. He was ruled down and the call was reversed, leading to a touchdown. A two-point conversion was needed. Quarterback Alex Smith found tight end Demetrius Harris, tying the score.

"Gassed? That doesn't matter," Kubiak said. "Everyone is tired playing in that game. You just have to find a way to make the play. I know they are disappointed." 

The Broncos took the opening drive in overtime, marching for a 44-yard field goal. OK, KC couldn't do it again, right? With one stop, the Broncos would win. Aided by another strong kick return, the Chiefs moved 46 yards as Santos delivered a 37-yard field goal. It began to feel different. That Denver's offense needed to win this game with the defenders revealing uncommon elasticity.

The Broncos stalled at the 44-yard line. It left a choice. McManus jogged onto the field. Then he went back to the sideline. There wasn't much communication. Kubiak, in the end, pushed the chips to the center of the table. 

"I made that decision and it just didn't work out. I have a lot of confidence in Brandon," said Kubiak. "If we did have timeouts maybe we think of (punting) and see if you can get the ball back. I don't know. We're going to try to win around here."

McManus' boot never had a chance. He hit ground first, the equivalent of a divot in golf.

"It had to be perfect, and it wasn't," lamented McManus. 

The Chiefs capitalized, giving Santos' a chipshot with 1:03 remaining in overtime. The bang off the upright amounted to a haunting tease.

"It just shows we know how to win when the game is on the line," said Chiefs Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry. "I am glad we showed heart."

Between head-shaking plays, a benched right tackle and clumsy special teams, the maligned Broncos delivered for 57 minutes. If the Broncos' defense is Orange Rush, the offense seemed to be Just Enough.

"I am disappointed. It stinks to lose, especially going back and forth like that," said Siemian, who finished 20-for-34 for 368 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions despite five sacks. "A couple of times, I thought we had it. Hats off to Kansas City. They battled and battled." 

It's impossible to overstate this loss. A victory would have kept a sixth-straight AFC West title within reach, and a prime playoff berth realistic. 

"Now we just have to get to the playoffs," Harris said. "If we do that, we will be scary to anybody."

Against reason, the Broncos secured a 10-9 lead with 7:23 remaining in the third quarter. Siemian bought time with his feet. In his finest play of the season, the second-year quarterback scrambled left, reversed field, ran roughly 50 yards and fired an off-balance, cross-body strike to receiver Jordan Taylor for a 6-yard touchdown. Siemian looked every bit like the middle infielder who had an opportunity to play baseball at the University of Central Florida. And it helped that right tackle Donald Stephenson, who replaced slumping Ty Sambrailo, never surrendered on the play, continuing to block to keep the scramble alive. 

When coach Kubiak announced this week Siemian needed to play big, it's evident he had this in mind. Context made it significant. The Broncos had never lost a game when leading this season. Of course, the Broncos love accompanying drama and Hill's run created it. With a running back in the wildcat formation, Spencer Ware took the snap and handed to Hill on a counter for a 3-yard score. The Chiefs regained a 16-10 lead. 

Then everything turned on its head. For a while anyway.

The Broncos' offense, out of hibernation, began gashing the Chiefs. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders remained a mismatch with his toughness and speed outside. He caught 99 yards worth of passes on a go-ahead drive. Sanders' 64-yard reception, Siemian's third longest completion of the season, set up a critical score. His, of course. Sanders outran Phillip Gaines to the pylon for a 35-yard touchdown, accented by Sanders' Michael Jackson "Thriller" celebratory dance (Thanks to my Twitter Village for the heads up). 

Gripping a one-point lead deep in their own territory, the Broncos showed a new identity: aggression. Siemian did what Broncos fans have been waiting for since he won the job over Mark Sanchez and Paxton Lynch in training camp. He went deep, connecting with Fowler on a 76-yard score, his longest of the year.

It was a dizzying U-turn after a forgettable first half. 

The Broncos' inability to field even field a pedestrian offensive line threatened to sabotage them. This is how bad it was on a blustery Sunday night. Midway through the second quarter, the Broncos' right tackles were trending on Twitter -- never a good thing -- and the Chiefs led 9-0 without running an offensive play. 

You read that correctly. Sambrailo, who received the starting role this week, earned a demotion with a poor first quarter. He allowed two sacks, and refs flagged him for a pair of penalties. Stephenson replaced him, providing duct tape on a the Kansas City Chiefs' tidal wave rush. Inexplicably, the Chiefs collected 49 yards offense in the first half and led by six points.

Kansas City capitalized on the the Broncos' issues upfront. In his second game back from knee surgery, Justin Houston played like Jeff Spicoli wrecked his 1979 Chevy Camaro Z28 on Saturday night (See Fast Times, Ridgemont High). Houston raced untouched between left guard Max Garcia and left tackle Russell Okung to sack Siemian for a safety. The Broncos made the mistake of kicking to the mercurial returner Hill, who conjures images of former Chiefs returner Dante Hall, "The Human Joystick." Hill hauled in the kick, burst forward then hit his stride down the far sideline. He reached a max speed of 22.7 miles per hour, fastest in the NFL this season, and high-fived teammate De'Anthony Thomas before crossing the goal line. Consider it a splash of Sea Breeze on an open wound.

"The return was set up away from No. 36 (Kayvon Webster) because he's a playmaker," Hill said. "It was a coming out party for me tonight."

Kansas City led 9-0 and Houston owned three sacks, marking the fourth time in two seasons an opposing player has reached that mark. The Chiefs offense spent the first 30 minutes running a "Four Corners" North Carolina offense, when not running away from Miller (NFL sack leader with 12.5). It raised the question of why NBC flexed this game instead of sticking with New England's Tom Brady at Jets. Denver breathed life into the crowd and offense with a 10-play, 65-yard drive, netting a 33-yard McManus field goal to avoid a first-half shutout.

Funny, these Broncos. For nearly three quarters, this game felt like a marble in the shoe. Then they started rolling. Now the challenge is real: keep the ball from going downhill with a playoff berth hanging in the balance.

"We have a lot of leaders in our locker room. We still have a lot of big games left," Miller said. "Anything can happen. We saw it last year."

Standing Pat For Now

The Broncos had seen enough. No reason to wait until December or January to talk like they did with Chris Harris and Derek Wolfe. Denver talked with safety Darian Stewart about a contract extension the week before his three-takeaway performance at New Orleans. Stewart wanted to remain a Bronco, where he has become a high-profile, if not healthy player on one of the league's best defenses. 

"Family. Family is happy. Being a free agent before, you get tired of moving around," Stewart told Denver7. "You just want to be in one place for some years, somewhere to call home. Denver was the best place for me. My family loves it, and I love my teammates, coaches. Everything about it was just right."

For now, the Broncos are determined to stand pat with contracts. They have interesting decisions to make with free agents nose tackle Sylvester Williams and cornerback Kayvon Webster. Also, it bears watching if the Broncos would approach safety T.J. Ward about an extension. He has one year remaining on his contract, and would love to say in Denver's winning environment after years of losing in Cleveland. 

Footnotes

  • Jordan Norwood muffed two punts, turning the ball over once. Norwood left at one point because of a possible concussion, but returned.
  • Kapri Bibbs avoided a concussion a nasty first half hit and played again.
  • The Broncos' inactives featured no surprises. Receiver Marlon Brown, who was scratched, could be ready to play this Sunday. 

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Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on FacebookTwitter and TheDenverChannel.com’s Broncos page. Troy welcomes most of your emails at Troy.Renck@kmgh.com.