With snow flurries in the air and the INVESCO Field at Mile High crowd as excited as it had been all afternoon, the Broncos were a few positive plays away from at least extending -- if not winning -- a game they'd once trailed by as many as 20 points.
A Chris Long sack and three incompletions later, that chance was finished.
As Orton watched his fourth-and-16 pass for
"That's the game of football sometimes," Royal said. "You prepare to win every week. We had momentum, things were going our way at the end and we just didn't finish the game. We had our opportunities and we just didn't make the most of them."
Orton threw for 347 yards and three touchdowns,
The Broncos started strong -- jumping out to a 10-0 lead -- but a pair of lackluster middle quarters left them in a disappointing hole. Still, the team made a bid to bail out of it with a frantic final quarter.
Down 33-13, Orton hit Lloyd for a 41-yard touchdown on the first play of the final 15 minutes -- the wide receiver's fourth scoring catch of 40 yards or longer this season.
The sixth-year signal caller followed that up by leading two more scoring drives. With 4:50 remaining, Orton hit Royal for a 16-yard score. After a Rams' three-and-out, he led another quick drive, hitting
"I thought the whole fourth quarter the attitude was good," said Orton, who finished with a passer rating above 100 for the fourth time this season. "The confidence was good, and guys expected to go out and make plays and either tie it up or win the game."
That offensive surge seemed to spark a defense that failed to slow the Rams attack for much of the first three quarters -- a period when Bradford rang up most of his career-high 308 passing yards and each of his career-high three passing touchdowns.
The defense forced three-and-outs on three of the Rams' first four final-quarter possessions and allowed only a field goal in the quarter.
That effort included a third-and-4 play with less than two minutes left on which
The sequence set the offense up with the final chance to continue the game.
After a play that was negated because of off-setting penalties, Long, a former first-round pick, brought Orton down for a 6-yard loss.
In a long-yardage situation, Orton couldn't hit on any of his last three attempts as the Rams defense held. Orton's final pass fell short with Long pressuring him again.
"I appreciate the fight of our team," Head Coach Josh McDaniels said. "(We) continued to play hard and had a shot there at the end to try to do something."
For most of the second half, it looked like the Broncos, who dressed in all blue uniforms for the first time this season, wouldn't have that chance -- even after a promising start that included a first-possession touchdown for the third straight week.
In that time, the Broncos fumbled the ball away twice and ceded 26 unanswered points as St. Louis took control. McDaniels credited the Rams for making adjustments on both sides of the ball during the game-altering stretch.
"We have to play 60 minutes,"
In the minutes after the Broncos' closest loss of the season, many players lamented that lesson from their sixth loss in seven games.
As Denver heads into a three-game road trip, the spirited rally provided a reminder of what the team is capable of when it puts together a complete effort. While parts of the season have been tough, players kept a positive outlook on the season's final five games.
After a disappointing result on Sunday, those contests loom as more chances to make sure their luck changes down the stretch.
"I've got an old saying, 'You've got to go through it to get to it,'