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Down But Not Out

Posted Dec 24, 2011

The Broncos lost 40-14 in Buffalo but they still control their own playoff fate as a win against Kansas City next week would clinch the AFC West.

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- For the second consecutive game, the Broncos opened both halves strong, scoring touchdowns on their opening drives of the first and third quarters.

And for the second consecutive game, the team couldn't overcome mistakes and big plays by the opponent en route to a 40-14 loss to the Bills Saturday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"We're frustrated," said Daniel Fells, who scored the team's second touchdown on a 17-yard pass from Tim Tebow. "We felt like that was an embarrassing performance, and we know we're better than that. So we've got to come out next week and show that we are."

The Broncos' playoff hopes are still alive -- if the team wins next week at Sports Authority Field at Mile High against the Kansas City Chiefs, it's in the postseason for the first time since 2005.

"We'll be ready," said Elvis Dumervil, who had a sack in the game. "You couldn't ask for a better opportunity than to go against (Chiefs quarterback) Kyle (Orton). We'll bring our 'A' game."

There were some positives for Denver on Saturday.

Willis McGahee topped the 1,000-yard rushing mark on his second carry of the game, making him just the second player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards with three franchises, joining Ricky Watters.

As an offense, the Broncos opened both halves of Saturday's game quickly.

To start the game, the unit drove 73 yards in 11 plays, capped by a 1-yard Tebow rushing touchdown to take a 7-0 lead.

After receiving the second half kickoff, Denver took just seven plays to move the ball 69 yards for another score, this time a 17-yd touchdown strike from Tebow to Fells.

But both efforts were followed by multiple Bills scores.

"Things were rolling for us when we first came out there and then we just didn't capitalize on it," Fells said. "That's the biggest thing. We didn't take advantage of the opportunities when they were there."

In the first half, Dave Rayner kicked off Buffalo's scoring with a 28-yard field goal after missing his first two attempts.

After a Denver three-and-out, Leodis McKelvin fielded a 50-yard Britton Colquitt punt at the 20-yard line and sprinted 80 yards down the sideline for Buffalo's first touchdown -- and first lead -- of the afternoon.

Denver nearly had an answer, as Eddie Royal fielded the ensuing kickoff at the 4-yard line, followed his blockers and made a handful of Bills miss for a 96-yard touchdown. But a block-in-the-back penalty negated the score and turned it into a 10-yard return.

The Broncos went three-and-out and were forced to punt with less than two minutes remaining in the half -- enough time for Buffalo to put together a six-play drive that resulted in a 4-yard touchdown by C.J. Spiller and a 17-7 lead.

Denver opened the second half with a touchdown drive to trim the lead to 17-14, but once again, Buffalo put together multiple scoring drives as an answer.

Rayner made three consecutive field goals to push the lead to 26-14, as Spiller went over the 100-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career.

During that span, Denver managed just one first down and Tebow threw his first interception of the game. From there, the contest got out of reach for the Broncos.

"Offense, defense and special teams - we all gave up a touchdown," Champ Bailey said. "It's not acceptable."

Buffalo's next two scores were back-to-back interceptions returned for touchdowns. The first was courtesy of safety Jairus Byrd, who returned his pick 37 yards for a touchdown after Tebow was targeting Eric Decker downfield.

On the first play of Denver's ensuing drive, Tebow's arm was hit as he threw a pass, causing the ball to sail virtually straight up, and defensive end/linebacker Spencer Johnson came away with the interception, rumbling 17 yards into the end zone to put the score at 40-14.

"Today wasn't good enough," Head Coach John Fox said. "We were minus-four in the turnover ratio. I thought they outplayed us in all three phases. Offense, defense and the kicking game."

"We had opportunities, but it went the other way," he continued. "They stretched their lead out with two turnovers for scores and my hat's off to them. They were ready to play and they outplayed us."

Denver's final two possessions of the game ended with Tebow's fourth interception and a turnover on downs, respectively.

It was mistakes -- like those interceptions -- and big plays -- like Stevie Johnson's 55-yard catch, McKelvin's touchdown en route to his franchise-record 135 punt return yards and Spiller's 38-yard burst early in the game on the way to a 111-yard rushing day -- that put the Broncos in a hole they couldn't emerge from.

"You have to give them a lot of credit," Tebow said. "They played well and they executed. They came up with big plays and I just have to do a better job of not giving them opportunities."
Even after a performance that Dumervil called "inexcusable," the Broncos still control their own fate.

Win next Sunday, and the team is headed to the playoffs.

"It'll be a great game, and I'm excited we'll get the opportunity at home in front of our fans," Tebow said. "And as a player, as a quarterback, as someone who's dreamed of that my whole life, it will be exciting to have one last game to try to go win and make the playoffs. We'll put our best forward and go try to execute and hopefully win."

Bailey said the club will have to move past the loss quickly, as it knows what's at stake.

"It hurts, but you get over it," he said. "You have to be a pro. That's why we play 16 games. We have one left to get us in the tournament and that's all we have to worry about. We know that. We just have to make sure we go get it."

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