DENVER — Less than an hour after Case Keenum was sacked by Jabrill Peppers to cement a 17-16 loss to the Browns, the quarterback’s emotions remained raw.
“I’m still pretty emotional about it,” Keenum said. “That’s what I dream about, man. That’s what I want. I want the ball in my hands with a chance to go win the game. And to get that close and to not [win], that pisses me off. I know my mom’s going to be mad for using that word, but it hurts.”
With 50 seconds left, Keenum and the Broncos seemed poised to get that win. A fourth-down stop by Adam Gotsis gave Denver a chance at a game-winning drive, and the Broncos started the drive with plays of 14 yards and 8 yards to move to the Denver 35-yard line.
A few plays later — on fourth-and-2 — Keenum found running back Devontae Booker on a short route, and Booker darted for 15 yards to midfield.
In that moment, the Broncos seemed to be on track for another comeback.
It wouldn’t have been anything new for Keenum, who led game-winning drives against Seattle, Oakland and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Against Houston, he moved the team far enough for Brandon McManus to attempt a game-winning field goal attempt — though that try would fly wide right.
On Saturday, then, the Broncos seemed poised to capture more magic.
And even after a first-down spike to stop the clock with 52 seconds, Keenum and the offense had three more chances to get into field-goal range. Head Coach Vance Joseph would later say that the Broncos’ target was the Cleveland 42-yard line.
Painstakingly close to an attempt for a win that would’ve kept the Broncos in playoff contention.
Instead, Keenum misfired on second and third down and then was sacked on fourth down.
Now, the Broncos need more than just a little bit of help from teams around the league, as they could be eliminated from the playoffs as early as Sunday.
Those unmade plays will linger with Keenum, he said Saturday night.
An earlier third down will, too.
With five minutes, 29 seconds to play in the game and the Browns leading by four points, the Broncos faced third-and-1 from the Cleveland 6-yard line.
Joseph and the Broncos had already successfully challenged a previous third-down play to pick up a first down in the red zone, and they seemed poised to score the go-ahead touchdown.
But the preceding second-down play went for just 2 yards, and running back Phillip Lindsay couldn’t get the edge on third down as he was stopped for no gain.
Joseph, then, had another decision to make.
He could either go for the fourth down — and the lead — or send McManus on for a chip-shot field goal and trust his defense to get a stop.
Joseph chose the latter, and though the Broncos’ defense did get a stop, the offense never ended up with another chance to score.
“I wanted points there,” Joseph said. “About 4:30, 5 [minutes] to go in the game. We had [two timeouts] and the two-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there. … It was my decision [to] take the points.”
When asked about the decision after the loss, Joseph said the previous two runs played a factor in his choice.
“Absolutely,” he said. “That third-down play didn’t look great. We had points. And again, I trust our defense to get a stop the next drive, and we did.”
Keenum, who said he felt confident the offense would’ve converted the fourth down, recognized that regardless of the decision, he still had a chance to lead his team to the win.
“They got a stop and [we] got the ball back,” Keenum said. “I can’t complain, cause I had the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game. That’s all I can ask for.”
On Saturday night, though, the Broncos needed just a little more.