LAS VEGAS — This is not the place to come for favorable odds. All these casinos — some with fake skies inside and others you can bungee jump off — were built on the nickname of gamblers' Lost Wages.
But as Sunday unfurled, the numbers began to favor the Broncos. The Ravens, Chargers, Steelers and Browns all lost. The playoff window raised off the Broncos' fingers, creating a sliver off hope against the Silver and Black.
All the Broncos had to do was register their biggest road win since Super Bowl 50. For a franchise flooded with disappointment, the first-ever game before a packed house of fans at Allegiant Stadium left a numbing feeling of emptiness. The Broncos fell 17-13, meaning the postseason will remain a stranger for the sixth consecutive season.
Las Vegas became Lost Vegas.
"We had an opportunity and we didn't capitalize," said quarterback Drew Lock, who finished 15 of 22 for 153 yards and no touchdowns or turnovers. "It hurts."
Forget the playoffs. All speculation will center now on the future of coach Vic Fangio. Will he survive, needing wins in his final two games to avoid starting his career with three straight losing seasons? Or will his defense represent a life raft, his future secured if he blows out the top coaches on the offensive staff? Denver posted eight first downs, one of the worst showings in three decades, and finished 1-for-10 on third down.
"We just want to keep competing. Anytime we play we want to win," said Fangio, who is 1-5 against the Raiders, including four straight losses. "We are going to try our (butts) off this week."
Denver had chances, like so many times this season.
The defense played with rabid energy, save for the first drive of the second quarter when running back Josh Jacobs (129 yards rushing) pushed them around.
Bradley Chubb produced his best moment as a Bronco with a leaping interception to set up a first-half score. In the third quarter, Shelby Harris delivered a strip sack, presenting an opportunity for the offense Lock. The former top prospect made a few plays, but could not overcome the Broncos' lack of running attack.
When the opportunity after the Harris turnover fizzled, Brandon McManus faltered.
The only player remaining from Super Bowl 50 missed a 55-yard field goal — he hit one from the same distance earlier — pushing it wide right and took exception with Fangio. McManus appeared upset that the Broncos rushed the sequence with the play clock nearly expiring. Fangio said there was a discussion about the spot of the ball, with Denver thinking it was a closer fourth down, which led to a lack of rhythm as the special teams ran out.
On their next drive, Lock converted a fourth-and-2 from the 34-yard line to Courtland Sutton for a 16-yard again. The excitement was shortlived as he was sacked on third-and-10 from the 50, leading to a punt with 3:54 remaining. The Broncos could not produce a stop, ending their misery this season.
"Adversity builds greatness," Chubb said.
Added Sutton, "We watch the film and try to work on it, to try and fix those things that are not working as well as they should. It's an accumulation of things."
If Oakland seemed rowdy, Vegas combines glitzy — a night club in the end zone with bottle service — and gloomy — everything features a black and silver hue. The game feels like an event, a weekly residency if you will. There was little to cheer about early unless you're a fan of the soothing sounds of Dionne Warwick or AC/DC cover bands.
The Raiders finally moved the needle in the second quarter, using officials and efficiency to secure a lead.
Derek Carr, the face of a franchise riddled by change and controversy this season, drew a 15-yard penalty as Harris gently hit him in the face mask. Moments later, Carr found his favorite target Hunter Renfrow gliding to the back of the end zone. Renfrow has sticky fingers, and made a beautiful, leaping grap on a lob over Kareem Jackson for a 10-yard score. Las Vegas absorbed 7 minutes, 24 seconds off the clock, the second longest against the Broncos this season.
With the Raiders leading, Lock struck back. The receivers emerged from witness protection, where they have spent the past seven weeks. Lock found Jeudy across the middle for a 40-yard gain. A suspect hands-to-face penalty threatened to unravel the drive, but Lock stood strong in the pocket and connected with Jeudy on a 14-yard gain. McManus followed with a 49-yard field goal, shaving the deficit to 7-3 with 7:24 remaining in the half.
Justin Simmons talks until he's hoarse about defense traveling and turnovers representing the secret sauce. The reason the Broncos found themselves desperate, if not demoralized was the inability to steal the ball once from Cincinnati. That changed Sunday.
With Jacobs treating the ball like a greased pig, Mike Purcell pounced on it, lost it, then recovered it at the 41-yard line. The Broncos offense remained a rumor, but McManus salved the possession with a 55-yard field goal, his longest of the season. Denver shaved the deficit to 7-6, and that appeared it, a shrugged shoulders 30 minutes.
Then Bradley Chubb made the biggest play of his career. In what has been a lost season of injuries and surgeries — bone spurs removed from both ankles — Chubb vowed to make an impact as he became more comfortable. He played well against the Bengals and became a problem for the Raiders. On first-and-10 from the 26-yard line and 26 seconds left, Chubb went to work.
As he pushed up field, he recognized he wouldn't reach Carr. He sniffed out the screen pass, dropped quickly back a few feet then jumped to tip Carr's pass and haul it in. He rumbled 21 yards to the 1-yard line, setting up Javonte Williams' one-yard plunge to make it 13-7. Given that the Broncos are 1-22 when trailing at half and 17-4 when leading, it's hard to overstate the importance of that play.
It wasn't like Lock and the offense were doing much. With the new starter, the receivers emerged from witness protection, receiving eight targets in the first half. Jerry Jeudy posted three receptions for 60 yards after he was blanked last week, but no receptions in the second half.
The Raiders flipped the script. Jacobs had statistically bypass surgery. After posting 25 yards in the first half, he rushed seven times on the opening drive of the second half, logging 57 yards. Peyton Barber finished off the march — which was physical in every way — with a leaping 4-yard score, shoving the Raiders ahead 14-13.
In the end, the Broncos offense let them down, a movie that continues to play on loop since Peyton Manning retired. The Broncos two running backs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams combined for eight yards on 14 carries. The lack of balance, the lack of complementary football left no margin for error and another empty January.
"It's trash," defensive end Shelby Harris said. "We didn't come into the season expecting it to be like this. We felt like we had the talent to compete with anybody and we never put it together."