BALTIMORE — For 59 minutes of an AFC game here Sunday, the 2022 Broncos seemed to have found a new motto.
Just because you can't score doesn't mean you can't win.
In the end, however, it is necessary. Gotta score touchdowns. At least one. The heavily favored Baltimore Ravens went 91 yards in the final 4-plus minutes with backup quarterback Tyler Huntley scoring a touchdown off a 2-yard run with 28 seconds remaining. Justin Tucker drilled the go-ahead, extra point to put the Broncos behind for the first time all game, 10-9.
Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson did a nice job quickly moving the ball to the Ravens' 45-yard line but Brandon McManus' 63-yard field goal attempt as the clock struck 0:00 was well short.
The Ravens escaped with a 10-9 win.
"Maybe kicked the ground a little bit, I knew it was going to be right there at the (63-yard) mark again,'' McManus said. "Unfortunately, the 45-yard line (for 63-yard field goal attempt) hasn't been my friend this year. It was a good kick, but short."
The Ravens improved to 8-4 but will brace for the dreaded Monday MRI results on the knee injury that knocked star quarterback Lamar Jackson out from the final three quarters.
The Broncos fell to 3-9, assured of finishing with a losing record for a sixth consecutive year. The Broncos were eliminated from the AFC West title race before they even played the Kansas City Chiefs once this year. The Broncos do play the Chiefs next week at Empower Field at Mile High where they will try to snap their 13-game, seven-year losing streak against Kansas City.
“It was upsetting,’’ receiver Jerry Jeudy, who appeared to be on a snap count as he returned from an ankle injury, said as he saw McManus’ field goal try fall harmlessly into the end zone. “Losing games like that continuously, we’ve always wound up short.’’
PHOTOS | Broncos at Ravens
Indeed, this loss had similarities to so many other Broncos losses in that it was a close one. The Broncos have lost seven games by one score or less. They are 0-5 in games in which they were leading at halftime. Their vaunted defense has now surrendered scores – touchdowns or field goals – in the final 5 minutes of 8 games. Five of those late scores either tied the game or put the Broncos behind.
It doesn’t matter if the game is a wide open 40-35 barnburner – not the Broncos are capable of even approaching such a score as they’ve failed to score more than 16 points in 10 of 12 games – or a small-ball, 6-3 game, the Broncos are uncanny at finding ways to lose.
“Definitely winning is a habit and losing can be, too,’’ said Wilson, who averaged nearly 11 wins a season through his first 9 years in Seattle. “I’ve never really lost games like this. It’s a new feeling. One I don’t like. One I don’t want to experience ever again.”
Leading 9-3 thanks to three McManus' field goals and two Justin Simmons’ interceptions, the Ravens marched down the field in the final 5:02 with the help of two costly penalties against the Denver defense -- a 15-yard unsportsmanlike against linebacker Alex Singleton for his helmet-to-helmet hit on tight end Mark Andrews, and a pass interference penalty against star cornerback Pat Surtain II, who was caught wrapping up Andrews early on a ball thrown down the right sidelines.
The Ravens also converted two fourth downs on their final drive.
“I’ll look at them on tape and see but in the end we can’t have the penalties,’’ said head coach Nathaniel Hackett. “We were great up until that point. I think we only had two penalties up until those last two and the guys did a great job holding them on third down but you’ve got to finish them on fourth.”
On a chilly early December Sunday afternoon before an announced sellout crowd of 70,433 at M&T Stadium, the Broncos entered the game with the NFL's worst scoring offense at 14.3 points per game but also with the No. 4 ranked defense, which allowed 17.6 points per contest. The Ravens were 8.5-point favorites but they struggled with or without Jackson to move the ball against Ejiro Evero's defense.
The three McManus field goals came from 52, 41 and 50 yards. He now has 38 field goals of at least 50 yards in his career, breaking Jason Elam's long-held team record of 37. The team record for length was small consolation after one final long one wasn’t long enough.
“No, it’s cool but missed a 63 yarder so,” McManus said. “They pay me to kick field goals so of course that’s the moment I wanted. It’s in my range. I left it short. I’m more upset with that than anything.”
it was 45 degrees with a hazy, eastern sun for the early afternoon start. The Broncos had a nice opening drive with rookie tight end Greg Dulcich catching two Russell Wilson passes for 27 yards and veteran running back Latavius Murray running hard while Denver’s D was aggressive as usual with its passing-down blitzes to stymie Jackson.
For all the control the Broncos had of the game early, though, they were only up 3-0 after the first quarter. And that took a well-struck, 52-yard field goal by McManus.
To end the first quarter, Broncos’ second-year outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper sacked Jackson for a 6-yard loss. Jackson suffered a knee injury on the play and headed to the locker room, replaced by Huntley.
“I had no intention of hurting him,'' Cooper said. "Lamar Jackson is a great player. I didn’t know he was hurt.”
The pressures called by Evero, Denver's defensive coordinator, weren’t quite as effective against Huntley, who did a better job than Jackson of quickly finding open receivers. Huntley was an impressive 27 of 32 for 187 yards although he did throw one of Simmons’ two interceptions.
On his first full possession after Jackson’s injury, Huntley led a drive to the Denver 8-yard line before the Broncos' No. 1-ranked red zone defense came through to force a short Justin Tucker field goal.
The game was 3-3 with 5:55 left in the half.
An exchange of three-and-outs later, the Broncos started at their own 7-yard line and less than 3 minutes remaining in the half. Wilson dropped back and had all kinds of time while Jeudy ran wide open on a deep cross from right to left. Wilson stepped up in the pocket and chucked it deep to Jeudy for a 40-yard gain.
The drive carried on to a third-and-11 with Wilson again stepping up from pressure and lofting a 22-yard completion to Dulcich. The Broncos were in business at the Ravens’ 32 yard line with a minute remaining in the half.
Two short passes from Wilson to Jeudy set up fourth and 1 at the Ravens’ 23 and 42 seconds remaining. After Wilson was unable to hard-count the Ravens’ offsides, McManus drilled a 41-yard field goal to give the Broncos a 6-3 lead.
Wilson was a cautious, but efficient 17 of 22 for 189 yards. Dulcich had six catches for 85 yards and Jeudy caught four for 65. Murray rushed for 47 yards off 17 carries to give him 9 consecutive seasons of at least 400 yards.
“The game plan was to be physical because we knew they were going to be physical as well,’’ Wilson said. “We also want to make our plays, take shots down the field whenever we could. … We did a lot of good things there. But yeah we’ve got find ways to score touchdowns.’’
The third quarter was similar to the first two. The only score came after Simmons picked off a Huntley pass, giving the offense the ball at the Ravens' 40. It was Simmons' second interception of the season. He has at least 2 in all seven seasons of his career.
The 7 meager yards compiled by the offense was enough for McManus to boot his record-breaking 50-yard field goal.
With the Ravens driving deep in Broncos territory to start the fourth quarter, a double reverse resulted in receiver James Proche II throwing a deep pass into the end zone that was flooded with white Broncos uniforms. Simmons made the easy catch for his third interception of the year, second of the game.
Simmons now has five consecutive seasons with at least three picks.
Needing to protect, if not expand, on their 9-3 lead, the Broncos took possession with 7:43 remaining in the fourth quarter. Wilson hit Dulcich for another big play, this time for 30 yards, moving the ball into Baltimore territory. But the drive stalled there and Corliss Waitman came out for his 7th punt with 5:11 remaining.
“We’ve got to hold on to that ball and get another first down or two, knock down that clock and get a field goal, then it’s a 9-point game and in my opinion, it’s over,’’ said left guard Dalton Risner. “You can go down, get a touchdown, do what you want, call three timeouts, but it’s over. But it doesn’t make sense for me to tell ya we should have done that because we didn’t.’
For all the close losses the Broncos have suffered, this was a gut punch. The Broncos were in control all game long, but because they couldn’t score a touchdown, and the defense once again couldn’t get off the field for one final possession, they discovered a more heartbreaking way to lose.
“They’re all tough,’’ McManus said. “Continuously losing is tough.’’
“Those are the toughest ones because you know you’re right in it,’’ Risner said. “Listen, the Baltimore Ravens are going to be in the playoffs. That’s a playoff football team right there. I know Lamar went out early but we did good things. But I also know at the end of the day, if you do good things, it doesn’t matter if you don’t finish.
“So, to your point, yeah, it hurts. They’re gut punches. But I’m keeping my chin high. I’m going to continue to go to work. I’m going to work for this team, work for my teammates because I love these guys and we’re to get through it. There is no other choice.”
A reminder, the Broncos-Chiefs game next week was initially supposed to kick off at 6:20 p.m. and be featured on Sunday Night Football on 9NEWS. But because the Broncos have suffered so many close defeats, the game was flexed out and will now kick off at 2:05 p.m. and be shown on CBS, Channel 4.
With the Broncos at 3-9, the Chiefs at 9-3 and five games left to play, everything about Denver’s season is done except for the stat keeping and pride checking.
Courtland Sutton, the Broncos' No. 1 receiver, didn't have a catch in the first half and was sidelined in the second half with a hamstring injury. He will have an MRI exam Monday but there is fear he will miss multiple games. ...
On the plane ride home, the Broncos lost practice squad quarterback Josh Johnson to the 49ers, who will add the veteran to their 53-man roster after Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a season-ending broken foot injury. The Broncos worked out veteran free-agent quarterback Joshua Dobbs on Friday and had interest in signing him to their practice squad before losing Johnson. Dobbs, though, also visited the Detroit Lions on Saturday. ...
Remember the punter competition in training camp and the preseason? It worked out for both Corliss Waitman and Sam Martin. The difference is workload. Through 12 games, Waitman has delivered 72 punts while Martin caught on with the Buffalo Bills where he has 27 punts . ...
Broncos inside linebackers Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton each finished with 17 tackles.
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