DENVER -- It was an all-too-familiar scenario for the Broncos.
On Sunday -- as they did last week in Atlanta -- Denver battled back from an early deficit to pull within one possession of the Houston Texans late the fourth quarter.
But just like last week, the Broncos ultimately ran out of time and suffered a six-point loss, 31-25.
"We are not doing our jobs well enough as a team to get ourselves in a hole against two good football teams two weeks in a row," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "I certainly appreciate the guys competing, the guys fighting, and we've been knocking on the door there at the end."
Trailing 31-11 after three quarters, the fourth quarter belonged to Denver.
First, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson forced a fumble, which was recovered by fellow defensive tackle Justin Bannan.
Two plays later, Manning -- who became the NFL's all-time leader with his 64th career 300-yard game -- hit wide receiver Brandon Stokley up the middle for a 38-yard touchdown that pulled the Broncos to within 13 points.
The defense promptly forced a three-and-out, and Manning and the offense got back to work.
The unit put together its longest drive of the day, executing 16 plays to drive 74 yards down the field. Facing a third-and-goal at the 6-yard line, Manning fired a pass to wide receiver Eric Decker in the end zone, but the receiver was hit and the ball popped back into the air.
Tight end Joel Dreessen, a former Houston Texan, was right there to complete the tip-drill and haul in the 6-yard touchdown to pull the team within one possession.
"I was feeling a little bit of that Mile-High, fourth-quarter magic," Dreessen said. "I was like, 'Holy cow, we were down by 20 at the beginning of the fourth quarter and we could really win this game.'
"It just didn't work out."
Needing one more stop, the defense nearly got it just before the two-minute warning. Denver used its last two timeouts to stop the clock with 2:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, and Houston faced a third-and-5.
With the crowd at a fever pitch, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub dropped back and fired to wide receiver Andre Johnson on the sideline. Cornerback Champ Bailey dove to break up the pass, but it was just out of his reach, and Johnson dove forward for a 12-yard gain and a first down.
"I was right there," Bailey said. "It's just two good players making a play. His quarterback put it right where I couldn't get it. I've got to give (Johnson) a lot of credit. Once I started following him around, he didn't have a catch, then in crunch time he made it happen. So I've got to give him a lot of credit for that."
The defense forced a punt four plays later, but by then the Broncos offense was left with just 20 seconds to drive 86 yards for a touchdown.
Manning hit Decker for a 16-yard gain before running to the line to spike the ball and stop the clock, but the final play -- which featured three laterals -- eventually resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Houston to end the game.
"At the end, we still lose," Bailey said. "But one thing you don't want to see is guys fold and not finish to the end. We had a lot of guys that kept fighting. We just need to find a way not to get ourselves in that hole."
The game started well enough for Denver. Though the offense was forced to punt after a four-play drive, the defense needed just one play to get on the board.
Thanks to Britton Colquitt's 57-yard punt at the end of the previous drive, the Texans were backed up at their own 5-yard line. Schaub dropped back and defensive end Elvis Dumervil was right there for his first sack of the season, which resulted in a safety.
Up 2-0, Denver got the ball back and drove down the field for a 32-yard Matt Prater field goal and a 5-0 lead.
But from that point through the third quarter, Houston outscored Denver 31-6.
Among those scores were two deep, play-action strikes from Schaub -- a 60-yarder to Johnson and a 52-yarder to wide receiver Kevin Walter.
Those big plays, and the offense's inability to find a rhythm early in the game, were big factors in sending the Broncos to their second straight loss.
"We had close games and finished strong with both of them, but if we want to be a great team, we have to be that team to keep it close all the way through and score points when you get in the red zone, don't allow explosive plays and win ballgames," Decker said. "I think obviously we played two great teams and you have to give them a lot of credit, but we want to be right there with them."
That sentiment was echoed throughout the locker room. While Denver has faced three 2011 playoff teams to start the season, including two teams that are undefeated through the first three weeks of the season, the Broncos aren't making excuses.
"Right now we're 1-2, and we're a better team than that," Vickerson said. "We just want to show that we are capable of the big expectations around here."
Denver's next chance comes against the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High next Sunday -- the team's first AFC West matchup of the season.
"Division games count double," Manning said. "So we have to learn from this game, address it, be honest -- everybody needs to be accountable -- and try to improve from it."
"(We've) gotta keep fighting."