DENVER — Close may not matter much for a Broncos team that has now dropped 14 consecutive games to the Kansas City Chiefs.
The defeat still stings. The loss still counts the same.
But for the first time in several weeks — and perhaps for the first time all season — the Broncos have legitimate hope on the offensive side of the football.
"The goal is to win," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "We all know that. But to watch these guys when you're down 27-0 — everybody had a choice on how they wanted to continue that game. I'm so impressed with all those guys — defense, offense, special teams. They didn't blink, they stayed together. Defense came through with a big play for an interception and offense was able to play complementary football and score and continually score after they got another interception and then another one. That's all, it's great. It was awesome. We have to finish. We had opportunities to continually win that game. I appreciate that, and that is kind of that moral victory, but we want to win the game. We had a chance to. But the fight that these guys have is awesome."
Perhaps most notably, the Broncos' offense showed that fight — and in Sunday's 34-28 loss to the Chiefs, the group found a level of success the unit hasn't all season.
The Broncos scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions for the first time this season — and then scored again to open the third quarter to deliver three straight touchdowns to cut Kansas City's lead to 27-21. After the game, Hackett agreed that the stretch was the best the Broncos have played this season.
Wide receiver Jerry Jeudy matched his season output of three receiving touchdowns with three scores in Sunday's game, and he became the first Broncos receiver since Demaryius Thomas in 2014 to post three receiving touchdowns in a game.
"It means a lot, especially knowing that it's the anniversary for [the passing of Demaryius Thomas]," Jeudy said. "It just means D.T. was with us today. It means a lot."
Quarterback Russell Wilson, meanwhile, threw for 247 yards and tossed three touchdown passes for the first time this season. Wilson, who posted a 100.1 quarterback rating, also ran for 57 yards — including a 14-yard scramble on third-and-11 that set up the Broncos' final touchdown of the afternoon.
"He was fighting the whole game," Hackett said. "I give him so much credit and you see it, day in and day out. No matter what the situation is, just watching him there in that third-down situation to be able to break the pocket, and he was using his legs a lot. … He played really well."
Wilson sustained a concussion on that final run, as he barreled forward to try to help the Broncos earn a win.
"We can say all we want, but we're 3-9," Brett Rypien said. "They're 9-3. And the guy's out there battling his ass off to try to win the game. That, to me, is somebody I want to follow."
Rypien, who replaced Wilson in the game, threaded the needle to Jeudy on fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line to cut the lead to 34-28 and add the Broncos' fourth touchdown of the game. Denver had scored just three touchdowns in its past four games combined.
"I thought 'Ryp' made an astounding play, it was great," Hackett said. "One of the hardest things to do in this game is for a quarterback that has just been standing on the sidelines, hasn't gotten a lot of practice all week, and he has to go out there and he has to execute and win a game for you. I thought he also battled. That was an absolutely clutch play to make in the back of the end zone to Jerry. Then we had some other ways to be able to move the ball and, unfortunately, it didn't [go] our way. I give the Chiefs a lot of credit, they continually battled also."
In all, Denver posted its best point total of the season and just its third 20-point output of the year. The offense battled back from the initial 27-0 deficit and then scored another touchdown when the Chiefs extended the lead back to two possessions.
The performance was far from perfect — Denver had five three-and-outs and a pair of turnovers, including a pick-six — but the Denver offense still found success.
The defense, too, did its part to fluster the Chiefs' top-ranked scoring offense. After Kansas City scored on its first four possessions of the game to race out to a 20-0 lead, Denver's defense settled in.
The Broncos did not allow points on four consecutive possessions, and they picked off Mahomes twice in the first half to cut the halftime deficit to 27-14. Josey Jewell ended the game with two interceptions — the first two of his career — while Pat Surtain II snagged his first of the season.
"We know what we are capable of, especially on defense," Jewell said. "The offense can be great. They showed that today, they got some great movement. We just needed one more stop, it is that simple. We needed to eliminate some of those mistakes."
The Broncos, missing their franchise quarterback, were unable to cap the comeback. Rypien was intercepted on the Broncos' final offensive drive, and the Chiefs ran out the final four-plus minutes of clock.
Denver, though, showed resilience as the team battled back from a four-score deficit.
"To be able to overcome a deficit like that, and [have] nobody blink, and everybody continually fight for each other, it is something great to see and it's something that we preach," Hackett said. "We talk about the team all the time. That's one of our focuses. To see them buy into that is a great thing."
With an offense that may be gathering steam as the season winds down, it seems entirely possible the Broncos can ride the momentum forward.