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Just Short in Jacksonville

Posted Sep 12, 2010

The Broncos battled Jacksonville down to the wire in Sunday's regular season opener but couldn't come up with quite enough timely plays, losing 24-17.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The home fans who persevered at EverBank Field through blistering heat, driving rain and a 33-minute lightning delay went wild when Jacksonville's Daryl Smith picked off Kyle Orton in the final minute of Sunday's regular season opener.

The Jaguars' interception sealed the Broncos' fate -- a 24-17 loss -- in a back-and-forth contest. But ultimately, the miscue that extinguished Denver's final drive proved the last unfinished opportunity.

Using timely defense and an at-times explosive offense, the Broncos played themselves into position to improve to 1-0 on the young season, but they never found the the final-quarter fireworks to make it happen.

"That's what usually happens when you have two teams battling each other like that," Brian Dawkins said. "At the end of the day, one team is going to make more plays than the other, and we ended up on the short end of the stick."

Orton passed for 295 yards and a touchdown, including five completions of at least 25 yards. Knowshon Moreno added 60 yards on the ground and a touchdown on 15 carries in his 2010 debut after missing the entire preseason due to injury.

D.J. Williams led a defense that held Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew under 100 yards and out of the end zone. Yet on a day when the heat index climbed as high as 105 degrees before a severe storm blew in, Denver ended with its first opening game loss in four seasons.

After the Jaguars forged ahead on David Garrard's third touchdown with 7:59 left, the Broncos' best shot to answer came on the ensuing drive.

The visitors maneuvered to the Jaguars 14-yard line thanks to a big return by Perrish Cox and a 25-yard Orton completion to Brandon Lloyd, who finished with a game-high 117-yards on five catches.

On fourth-and-3, Head Coach Josh McDaniels sent the offense back onto the field. Orton lofted a fade toward Lloyd in the end zone. The receiver pulled down the pass but with his toes just out of bounds.

Orton took the blame for leading his target too far toward the sideline, and McDaniels called showing confidence in an offense that continued its hot preseason play into the regular season the best decision for his team.

"I loved the play call," Orton said. "We're going to be aggressive in those situations, let our best players have a chance to make plays. We weren't able to make it that time. But I've got confidence in everybody that's in that huddle, and if we get a chance again we're going to make that play."

After the Broncos defense forced a punt, the offense's final chance ended quickly when Orton's pass over the middle intended for Eddie Royal became Smith’s interception.

"Eddie had a good game, and I tried to stuff one in to him," Orton said. "You've got to take a chance at some point during two-minute."

That ending capped a peculiar second half.

Before that final quarter, both teams were sent off the field because of lightning in the area. When they emerged, the Broncos soon tied the game on a 54-yard field goal by Matt Prater -- the eighth of his career of 50-plus yards -- but didn't score again.

In the locker room afterward, players downplayed the role of the brief delay.

"It's professional football, so you figure you just put the ball down and play," Spencer Larsen said. "It's not routine, but when the whistle blows, you've got to be able to execute and do your job."

At times, the Broncos, who never led, did showcase that sharpness. That included their first touchdown drive when Orton answered a Jaguars touchdown at the end of the first half with a four-play, 74-yard drive. The sixth-year quarterback capped that march with an 8-yard scoring pass to Jabar Gaffney, who celebrated the chance to play in his home town with the touchdown.

The Broncos punched in their second score in the third quarter after the defense came up with a fourth-and-short stop against Jones-Drew near midfield. A few plays later, Moreno pushed across the goal line from 1-yard out.

Early on, the Broncos had a harder time finishing drives, coming up empty on several scoring opportunities during much of the defense-heavy first half.

On their first drive of the new season, the Broncos offense moved into Jacksonville's red zone before a holding penalty and sack moved them out of field goal range. In the second quarter, a 13-play, 71-yard drive ended in Jaguars territory with a Correll Buckhalter fumble.

"It's real frustrating, but if we handled business early in the game, then it's not in that situation at the end," Gafffney said. "We've got to just iron that out and play better all around for 60 minutes."

After the game, it was clear that was just one of the lessons reinforced in the narrow loss.

Several Broncos asked for the chance to evaluate the game tape before trying to pinpoint where their AFC South opponent won the game. Others said the team needed to focus on attention to detail on both sides of the ball and finishing stronger moving forward.

McDaniels credited the Jaguars for earning the win with their play down the stretch. The coach praised Jacksonville's toughness and pressure defense.

As they begin preparations for next Sunday's INVESCO Field at Mile High opener against Seattle, the Broncos have plenty of positives to build from.

But Sunday's bid to start the 2010 regular season with a road win still came up just a few plays short.

"The way (the Jaguars) play really forces you to play mistake-free football," McDaniels said. "We certainly didn't do that well enough today. They made some critical plays when they needed to and we didn't make enough of them."