DENVER — They've tried to bring in a new game-managment clock coach to increase the chances of making the right call or the right decision at the right time when the game close.
They tried changing the guy who calls the offensive plays in hopes of turning oh-so-close defeat into confidence-building victory.
Before all that, they acquired a star quarterback with a long history of pulling out close games.
None of it has mattered. If they have the lead, if they battle back from behind, if the game is close, the Broncos for going on seven years find ways to lose.
For a second consecutive week, the Broncos blew a 10-0 lead and lost to the Las Vegas Raiders, 22-16 in overtime as Derek Carr threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Davante Adams on the first extra quarter possession to win it.
Russell Wilson played well completing 24 of 31 passes for 247 yards -- with several incredible throws occuring as he was getting hit -- but this ain't Seattle where winning is a habit. This is the Denver Broncos who after an astonishing 40-season run from 1976 to 2015 where they had more Super Bowl appearances than losing seasons have suddenly fallen into a grim rut of despair that no amount of work or perseverance can cure.
"I think we're on the learning end of the experience of how to get back to winning,'' Wilson said. "Sometimes it's a journey, sometimes it's an ugly one. Sometimes it's a tough one. What hurts probably more than anything else is these games are close."
For this game, Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett turned over play-calling duties to Klint Kubiak, his quarterbacks coach. Kubiak seemed to get the offense in rhythm early but as it has all year, efficiency could not be sustained.
"We were all in a flow, a better flow,'' said running back Melvin Gordon. "The second half we came out and were back to our old selves. I blame myself because I didn't play much. I made that mistake right at the end of the half, shot my own self in the foot and got taken out.
"This hurt because I was feeling it. I was seeing it. The line was blocking their butts off and giving us big enough creases to make it happen. And after that mistake I stopped myself from more opportunities."
Kubiak's play calling couldn’t stop Gordon from fumbling near the goal line again or a chip-shot Brandon McManus field goal from getting blocked at the halftime buzzer -- a sequence that came back to haunt the Broncos. What would have been first and goal at the 2 became fourth and 5 at the 7 after Raiders' defensive end Maxx Crosby -- the greatest defensive player to ever play far as the Broncos are concerned -- knocked the ball loose from Gordon. Broncos right guard Quinn Meinerz recovered the fumble back at the 7 but the damage was nearly done.
All-world Crosby then blocked McManus' 25-yard field goal. Anything there -- 7 points or 3 points -- and the Broncos have enough to win in regulation.
It's always something.
"Could a, should a, would a, that's the story,'' said Gordon. "It could be different. We could be winning by that same small margin we've been losing by."
As for his fumble, Gordon said: "I don't think that's the reason we lost the game because we recovered it but it definitely didn't help. When I do stuff like that I put myself on a short leash. I get taken out of the game. But I can't be mad at anybody but myself.''
A stalled offensive second half left the Broncos tied with the Josh McDaniels-coached Raiders, 16-16 as the game headed to overtime on a beautiful if chilly late-November Sunday afternoon at Empower Field at Mile High.
Colorado Springs' native Daniel Carlson kicked field goals of 52, 57 and 25 yards in the second half while McManus struck from 48, 52 and 48 yards in the game. No kicker was needed in overtime as the Denver defense -- which came in ranked No. 1 in scoring defense -- collapsed amid coverage breakdowns on their final two possessions that allowed the Raiders to first tie the game on a last-second field goal and then win it rather easily on the first possession of overtime.
The Broncos have now lost 6 in a row to the Raiders and fell to 3-7 overall. The Raiders improved to 3-7 record. The Broncos next have back-to-back road games -- at Carolina next Sunday and then at Baltimore. Barring seven consecutive wins to finish the season, the Broncos will miss the playoffs for a seventh consecutive year.
The Broncos were in good shape at the 2-minute warning Sunday, up 16-13 and in possession third and 10 while the Raiders were out of timeouts. But instead of running the ball and letting a good 40 seconds off the clock, Kubiak called pass and Wilson threw incomplete, stopping the clock with 1:53 remaining.
"We called a pass play to kind of end the game basically right there,'' Wilson explained. "You get a first down, the game’s over. They kind of covered it up pretty good. I tried to get outside of the pocket and (Jalen) Virgil was kind of scrambling down. I thought I had him, and I tried to take a shot to him. The ball just kind of went away from him a little bit. We have the best defense in the world and unfortunately, it didn’t work out this time. They’ve been unbelievable all year—unbelievable all year at stopping, stopping and stopping teams. Unfortunately, it didn’t work tonight.''
A Corliss Waitman punt gave Carr and the Raiders the ball at their own 22 with 1:43 remaining. Carr rather easily connected with Mack Hollins for 7 yards, Keelan Cole for 21 to midfield and then hit wide open running back Jacobs on a wheel route for 43 yards to set up first and goal from 7.
Three incompletions led to a Carlson short field goal to tie it up. But the tie was about to go to the visitor.
PHOTOS | Broncos vs. Raiders
To start overtime the Raiders won the coin toss and took the ball. A key flip as it turned out. Carr completed a 33-yard pass across the middle to tight end Foster Moreau, then the 35-yard scoring strike to Adams. Both were so wide open, it was difficult to spot who got beat -- although star cornerback Pat Surtain II accepted blame on Adams' game-winning touchdown.
“I was driving on the cross end,'' Surtain said. "(Adams) went on a double move. Should have kept my leverage, but have to correct that.”
On a 46-degree day with bright sunshine in the first half, the pregame events before 69,094 at Empower Field at Mile High began on a somber note with a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Colorado Springs shooting Saturday night that left 5 dead and at least 25 injured.
When it was time to play football, Kubiak was ready. A son of highly successful former Broncos offensive coordinator and head coach Gary Kubiak, Klint Kubiak was handed offensive play-calling responsibilities this week from Broncos’ head coach Nathaniel Hackett. The reason? The Broncos through 10 weeks ranked last in the NFL with 14.5 points per game.
A change, even if it was for change sake, was deemed necessary.
"For me, I'll do whatever I can to help this team,'' Hackett said. "We're so close. We continually talk about this over and over again. A couple plays here and there and it's a lot different outcomes. I look at myself first, see if there's something I can do to give some kind of spark to the offense. So I thought it would be good if I stepped away from that. Let Klint get upstairs and be able to see it from a bird's eye view up in the box and see if that would help us."
Immediately, the play-calling switch brought positive results.
For the first time all year, the Broncos scored a touchdown on their opening drive. It was Wilson who got them there with his accurate passing while getting hit as he threw. He started with a scrambling 15-yard dump off to tight end Greg Dulcich. Wilson was hit from behind while he threw a 16-yard slant dart to Courtland Sutton.
Wilson then lofted a pass down the right sideline where Kendall Hinton made an adjustment on the ball, stepped away from a tackle and ran it down to the half-yard line before he was ruled out of bounds.
On the next play, linebacker-sized running back Latavius Murray walked in with the touchdown. Wilson was 3 of 3 for 63 yards on the drive, the Broncos only possession of the first quarter.
Another smart play by Hackett was to NOT take the defensive play-calling away from Ejiro Evero. Though the Raiders moved the ball on their first two possessions, Evero called some pressures that knocked the Raiders back to a short punt, and a missed field goal.
It was still 7-0 Broncos with 12:26 left in the first half when Denver got the ball for its second possession. Two Gordon runs for 19 yards and a couple short Wilson completions got the Broncos close enough on their second drive for McManus to drill his first, 48-yard field goal.
It was 10-0 Broncos six minutes into the second quarter.
The Raiders didn’t waste their third possession. Adams got open twice – for a 23 yard catch and a 31-yard touchdown. The Raiders were racking up the stats – Adams finished with 7 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns, Carr was 23 of 37 for 307 yards, two touchdown passes and a 106.5 passer rating, and running back Josh Jacobs had 109 yards rushing on 24 carries through regulation.
Still, the Broncos were up, 13-10 midway through the fourth quarter.
The difference at that point was Raiders penalties -- they finished with 9 for 98 yards. Some flags were key in extending Broncos’ drives. Some were key in killing their own drives. Which sounded familar to those following along with the Broncos through the first half of the season.
But the Broncos blew their own opportunities to put the game away. Specifically, they botched a chance to go up 17-7 or no worse than 13-7 at halftime when Gordon had the ball knocked away on a third-and-1 chance from the Raiders 3 -- he had advanced to the 2 for a first down when Crosby knocked the ball loose -- and while right guard Quinn Meinerz recovered for a 4-yard loss, a McManus’ 25-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Maxx Crosby.
Gordon, who has been fumble-prone off and on during his 8-year career -- and especially this year -- could not be completely benched because No. 3 running back Chase Edmonds suffered an ankle injury during his second carry early in the game.
Murray got the bulk of the remaining workload but finished with just 49 yards off 17 carries (2.9 yards a pop). Gordon had just 8 carries -- only three in the second half -- for 31 yards (3.9 a carry).
Crosby was incredible as besides the blocked field goal and forced fumble he had 2.0 sacks to continue his career-long dominance against the Broncos. Crosby has 11.5 career sacks against the Broncos. His second-best opponent's total is 4.0 sacks against the Bengals.
“Maxx, he's one of the best players in the NFL,'' Hackett said. "He’s a dominant defensive end, and he continually shows that. We knew that he was going to be a threat, and we have to do an even better job being able to handle him.''
The Broncos only had three possessions in the first half and they resulted in a touchdown, field goal and drive to the 2 yard line before the fumble and blocked field goal. Still, pretty good work.
In the second half, though, the Broncos' offense went inert, managing just two long-range McManus field goals. The Broncos finished with 16 points for the fourth time this season and failed to score at least 17 points for the eighth time in 10 games.
Wilson threw for 247 yards with Sutton taking in 5 catches for 80 yards and Hinton catching three passes for 57 yards. But in the end 16 points once again was not enough.
“We need to keep looking at all the different things that we're doing,'' Hackett said. "We had a chance there at the end of that first half to get some more points, and we came away with nothing. It's unacceptable. We can't do that. We have to score a touchdown, at least get a field goal. We didn't come away with either, so that's frustrating.
"We have to keep on working to get Courtland the ball. All the different things we need to do to get Latavius going. I thought he had a pretty nice game. So we have to find ways to score points.”
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