ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos move forward from the disappointment of a five-point loss to the Houston Texans, there's also a sense of resilience.
After winning five consecutive games to overcome a 1-5 start, both center Lloyd Cushenberry III and safety P.J. Locke expressed confidence in Denver's ability to again rebound from a tough loss.
"Just going through that type of adversity at the beginning of the season, you've been through it," Locke said Monday. "I felt the type of mentality I had to get out of that situation, get out of that hole. And we showed fight in the game."
Head Coach Sean Payton also credited his team's fight after the game, and Locke said after watching the film, he believes the Broncos' mistakes in Houston are correctable.
"Honestly, man, I'm really not worried," Locke said. "Obviously I'm disappointed that we lost. We ended the streak that we had, but I'm not worried by any means. As bad as we played, and it still came down to a game-winning drive, man, that's amazing. In those type of games, when you're minus-three in takeaways, those type of things, most times you're getting beat down. Just for it to come down to a game-winning drive, and we were eight yards away from winning the game, that's huge. All the things that we've seen on film, it's correctable. I'm not worried, man. I feel like we were headed in the right direction. We get those things fixed up, we'll be just fine. We'll be just fine."
Cushenberry said the slim margin of defeat creates an extra degree of disappointment, but he and his teammates still understand what they can accomplish over the next five weeks.
"It's still disappointing that we lost, because we haven't lost in a while," Cushenberry said. "Kind of unfamiliar. But we still know we're still in the middle of everything. We're in a decent spot, we've just got to take care of business these next five games. It makes it a little bit more disappointing knowing all the plays that we didn't come up with and the chance we had at the end, being at the 8-yard line. How close we were makes it a little bit more disappointing, but we're still in the hunt. We've still got a lot of hope, a lot of fight left — and a lot of season, lot of ball to play."
Cushenberry, though, knows the Broncos' margin for error has diminished after a loss that dropped the Broncos to 6-6. Entering Week 14, the Broncos' playoff chances sit just above 20 percent, according to the New York Times. Denver, though, is just one game back of four 7-5 teams in the Steelers, Colts, Browns and Texans. The Steelers and Browns each dropped contests on Sunday, while the Colts secured an overtime win.
"All year long we've said we were a tough group, a resilient group, but we've shown that," Cushenberry said. "The next five games, man, it's put up or shut up. We've got to come out with all of these wins to get in the playoffs, and once you get in, you're 0-0. Anything can happen. [I'm] looking forward to that challenge and getting it done."
THE FINAL PLAY
On third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, Russell Wilson was forced out of the pocket, and his end-zone throw to Lucas Krull was undercut and intercepted by Jimmie Ward.
As Payton explained Monday, the Broncos' final play was supposed to look different than the way it played out. Wide receivers Courtland Sutton and Jerry Jeudy lined up in a bunch formation with Krull, but the Broncos did not execute the intended shift on the play.
"The shift doesn't happen, and then we're playing street ball," Payton said.
The Broncos' struggles on the play were an example of the areas in which Denver must improve to find more success in the passing game.
"I think there's probably a combination of two or three things," Payton said of passing-game improvement. "I think it starts with protection. I think communication has to be on point. We finished the game yesterday, [and on] the last play of the game, we leave a shift off, so at the snap of the ball, you have three receivers that are trying to run a route, but they haven't shifted into their final formation. My experience has always been it's the details; it's the little things. Those things have to be better."
Payton later emphasized again that the Broncos' communication must improve, especially on the road.
"[There's] too many snaps where guys aren't ready, or we didn't get the shift, or we didn't get the call," Payton said. "That's troubling, especially this time of year."
STARTING THE SECOND HALF
The Broncos have scored on just one of their opening second-half drives this season, and that came courtesy of a 75-yard touchdown drive against the Packers. In Denver's loss to the Texans, the Broncos went three-and-out on the opening drive of the third quarter, as Wilson was sacked twice.
As Denver looks to improve its third-quarter starts, Payton said the Broncos will discuss whether to put together a second-half script during the halftime break.
"Yesterday, I started off the first play of the second half with a naked [bootleg]," Payton said of the starts to the second half. "We take a minus play, so it's a bad call by me. I don't think there's one thing specifically, but certainly, it's something we've talked about. We may look at putting together a second script between the second quarter and the start of the third quarter. That's not going to impact whether we defer or not."