It may not have been a trap game.
But it sure was a lousy game for the Denver Broncos.
Two second-half interceptions thrown by Broncos' quarterback Trevor Siemian, one that killed a potential, game-tying drive. A fake punt on the wrong side of the 50 that was botched from the special teams sideline huddle and served as a third turnover. An bizarre unsportsmanlike penalty against Broncos' star pass rusher Von Miller whose silly prank wasn't deemed funny by an over-officious referee, and thereby terminated one final chance to catch up.
"I can’t put my team in situations like that,'' Miller said. "I’ve got to be smarter than that. I’m always on the rookies and all the young guys for being smart and doing this and doing that. Then I go out there and do something like that, in a crucial situation in the game, I’ve just got to be better than that.
"It hits you in the stomach. I haven’t been in situations since my rookie season. One thing about it, I’m always, regardless, I always learn from my mistakes, I just can’t kill us. I killed the game today with that penalty. I’ve just got to be better than that, and I will be better than that.''
On a rare, hot, humid, late-September home game for the Buffalo Bills, the Broncos’ offense wilted in the red zone and ball protection and suffered its first loss of the season, 26-16 before a near capacity crowd at New Era Field.
"They forced turnovers and we didn’t force any,'' said Broncos' cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
"We just didn’t execute,'' said running back C.J. Anderson, who had one 32-yard run, but otherwise finished with 36 yards on only 8 carries. "Third downs. The red zone. We didn’t play in front of the sticks like we usually do. Lot of penalties. Just wasn’t us. Wasn’t our brand of football today.’’
Siemian was getting better as an NFL starting quarterback through the first two games and half of a third, but he may have gained a little too much confidence before throwing his two, second-half picks. On the first, he was scrambling left from near his own end zone when he zipped a pass down field that went inside of Bennie Fowler III as the receiver moved outside.
"Yeah, I thought he was going in and he ended up going out,'' Siemian said. "I’m responsible. Every ball that goes in the air, I’m responsible for. Can’t do that back there. Can’t turn it over anywhere back there.''
The second pick was Siemian's worst throw of the young season. The Broncos were down, 23-16 but had the ball first-and-10 at the Bill's 24 with about 11 minutes left the game. Siemian was under duress and he appeared to be throwing the ball away down the right sideline. Only he didn't get enough on his throw. The ball hung, then descended like a deflated ball as it was intercepted by rookie cornerback Tre'Davious White.
Those were the type of throws where Siemian might have gone a little outside his skin. Ergo, he's an efficient game-managing quarterback, but he's not a gunslinger.
"Again, the turnovers hurt,'' he said. "You kind of screwed your defense there so I’d like to do those back. Our defense bailed us out plenty of times. We just didn’t get it done.''
Siemian played well in the first half, but wound up completing 24 of 40 for 259 yards and the two interceptions for a 58.2 passer rating.
The Denver defense, meanwhile, struggled to contain Bills’ athletic quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who completed 20 of 26 for 213 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions for a 126.0 passer rating.
"He’s definitely one of the hardest quarterbacks to take out,'' Miller said. "Obviously I knew this going into the game. He’s a great quarterback, he’s one that lifts up his other teammates. If they’re eighties, when Tyrod jukes the ball they’re nineties, they’re ninety-fives. He really knows how to boost his teammates. He’s a great quarterback. He went out and he played great today.''
The Broncos might have had a chance to come back late in the game, but there was that strange unsportsmanlike penalty against Miller that allowed the Bills to keep the ball and score what turned out to be a game-clinching field goal for a 10-point lead.
The Broncos had stopped the Bills on third down near midfield when Miller was going to help up Taylor. But after extending his hand, Miller pulled it back as a prank. Referee Carl Cheffers didn’t think it was funny and flagged Miller, apparently for taunting.
"I just wasn't thinking,'' Miller said.
But come on, ref. It was just Von being Von. Taylor was laughing when Miller pulled his hand back.
"I was shocked, but that’s just where we are (in the league),'' Miller said. "I can’t do stuff like that, especially after a hit on the quarterback. I just can’t. I’ve got to be a better sportsman, and I just can’t put our team in a situation like that.''
The loss dropped the Broncos to 2-1 while the underdog Bills improved to 2-1.
“We definitely came to play,'' said Broncos' linebacker Todd Davis, who tied fellow inside linebacker Brandon Marshall with a team-high 10 tackles. "We didn’t take them lightly at all. We came out fighting. It just wasn’t enough today.’’
Once players from both the Broncos and Buffalo Bills let President Trump know they are free to, like or not, disagree with the President, it was time to play football.
The Broncos and Bills were tied, 13-13, at halftime.
Multiple players on both sides kneeled during the National Anthem as a demonstration of protest against Trump’s remarks Friday during a rally in Alabama.
"We decided to take a knee, it didn’t have anything to do with what the flag meant to me, it had absolutely nothing to do with that,'' said Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders. "It’s the fact that our President is sitting up there saying words that he shouldn’t be using and calling guys’ words that he shouldn’t be using because you’re the leader of the United States, that’s just not right. I decided to take a knee on that … He shouldn’t be treating guys like that if you’re standing up for a cause that they believe in.
"It was just unbelievable how he went about addressing people. It’s pretty sad … I stood up for him, I’ve given him a chance and every single thing they say, he’s proven right so far. Like I said, at the end of that, I just said I’m highly disappointed. It’s pretty sad that we have a President like that.''
Not every player took a knee. Broncos' left tackle Garett Bolles stood while placing his hand on the kneeling Miller's shoulder.
“I love our country. I love the men and women who fight for our country,'' Bolles said. "I don’t stand up for inequality. I don’t support that at all. I support my teammates and their feelngs so whatever they do I’m going to respect them, I’m going to support them. But I’m going to stand up for this country. That’s what I believe in. I’m a loving person. I believe it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, or what color you are, it don’t matter. We’re all a family and that’s what we need to be.’’
PHOTOS: Denver Broncos at Buffalo Bills (9/24)
Both sides then put the potential distraction behind them and played a competitive first half.
The first quarter went pretty much as expected with the Broncos taking a 3-0 lead against a bend-but-don’t-break Bills’ defense while Buffalo’s offense was shut down by the Denver D.
Brandon McManus’ 38-yard field goal with 49 seconds left in the quarter accounted for the only scoring. The Bills had zero first downs and just 10 total yards in the quarter.
Changing ends at the break seemed to ignite both offenses. On the first possession of the second quarter,Taylor had two, 28-yard pass completions to set up a touchdown drive. The first was on a short crossing pattern to a wide-open Jordan Matthews. The second occurred while Taylor was hit by Broncos’ outside linebacker Shaq Barrett. Taylor got enough of the throw down to Kaelin Clay, who was sitting in a soft part of the Broncos’ zone.
The Bills finished the drive when a deflected pass in the end zone wound up in the arms of receiver Andre Holmes for a 2-yard touchdown reception. It was 7-3 Bills but not for long.
The Broncos answered on their next drive thanks to the strong rushing of Anderson and Jamaal Charles between two unnecessary roughness penalties against the Bills’ defense.
Anderson broke out for a 32-yard run and as he was well out of bounds, he got shoved down by White. The run and tack-on penalty put the ball at the Buffalo 25. Then Buffalo’s Jerry Hughes was flagged for roughing Broncos’ quarterback Trevor Siemian on a short pass attempt, setting up first down at the 12.
On the next play, Charles scooted in for his first touchdown as a Bronco. It was 10-7 Broncos.
“It felt great to get in the zone,'' said Charles, who should have got the ball more after he rushed for 62 yards on just 9 carries. "I was more excited to go out there and continue to play hard for my teammates.’’
The Bills’ Steve Hauschka tied it, 10-10 with a 49-yard field goal. McManus gave the Broncos another lead, 13-10 with a field goal from 35 yards. And then Hauschka answered in the final seconds with a 55-yard field goal to tie it, 13-13.
Siemian played a good first half, completing 15 of 22 for 154 yards. Taylor was 14 of 18 for 139 yards.
There were two key plays in the second half. One, was after the Broncos took a 16-13 lead on another McManus field goal, Taylor scrambled left and threw across his body and threw perfectly to tight end Nick o'Leary who kept his feet inbounds for a 31-yard play. Two plays later Taylor connected with Matthews on another crossing route for 25 yards, setting up first and goal at the 6.
On the next play, Taylor broke the pocket, extended the play right and looked inside to spot tight end Charles Clay for the touchdown. It turned out to be the winning score.
The second key play was Siemian's fourth quarter interception on first down at the Bills' 24. He just didn't get enough on the throw to make it to the sidelines.
"He’s trying to make plays, I can’t fault him on that,'' said Broncos head coach Vance Joseph. "We want him to be smart with the ball, he has been smart with the ball, and he’s made those plays before, so I’m not down on that part. We can’t do it, but I get why he took some chances.''
The Broncos return home to play the AFC West rival Oakland Raiders next Sunday.