DENVER — There would be no comeback on Sunday.
A week after erasing a 21-point deficit against the Chicago Bears, the Broncos got the ball trailing 24-21 with 2:14 to play and a chance to rebound from an 11-point deficit against the New York Jets.
Denver would move the ball as far as its own 41-yard line before Russell Wilson was strip-sacked while rolling to his left. New York's Bryce Hall returned the fumble for a touchdown to seal the victory.
The failed comeback attempt — which included a 75-yard touchdown drive on the previous offensive possession and a Pat Surtain II interception on a Jets third-and-5 from the Broncos' 27-yard line — dropped the Broncos to 1-4 on the season.
In the loss, Denver's offense turned the ball over on three occasions, converted 1-of-3 first-half red-zone chances and mustered minus-18 yards on five second-half drives before the late touchdown. Wilson was also whistled for an intentional grounding call that resulted in a safety in the first quarter.
Defensively, the Broncos allowed 234 rushing yards — 150 of which came in the second half — and surrendered points on the first four possessions of the second half.
"Obviously, a disappointing loss," Head Coach Sean Payton said. "I think it was pretty clear, at least in my eyes, when you look at some statistics — the turnovers come to mind. We talked about the red-zone efficiency. Offensively, we had two drives in the first half [that] both ended up in field goals, and that starts with me. Two negative outside plays. We felt like we had a good plan going in, and yet, we ended up kicking field goals. The turnovers, and then defensively, it was a tale of two halves. I thought we played them well in the first half, then we allowed a big run in the second half, and then the running game becomes a problem. Three turnovers and a safety, I think, lead to 15 points — tough to win a game like that. I have to do a better job. It starts with me."
Despite having chances early to put some distance between themselves and the Jets, the Broncos were unable to capitalize. After an opening three-and-out by Denver's defense, rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. muffed the ensuing punt, and the Jets recovered. Denver's defense held New York to a field goal, and the Broncos answered with their fourth opening-drive touchdown in five games. After another defensive stop, though, Wilson was forced into the safety. Rather than holding a 7-0 lead, the Broncos led just 7-5.
"Bad play, unfortunate play by me," Wilson said. "I was trying to get outside to throw it away, but they got to me just right before I could threw it away over the flat's head. There was a lot of game left. We still did a lot of good things in the first half. We did some good things there, but we have to be cleaner in the third [quarter]."
Later in the first half, the Broncos held a first-and-goal at the New York 5-yard line and a first-and-goal from the New York 10-yard line. On both occasions, Denver came away with field goals.
"Situational football is what wins in this league," tackle Mike McGlinchey said. "When you come away with six instead of 14, that decides the football game. On top of that, you turn the ball over three times after that and you give yourself no chance. We've got to be better in the red zone. We got deep in there, and we've got to put points on the board. There's no excuse for that."
As the second half began, the Broncos' fortunes swung. Despite holding a 13-8 lead at the break after time ran out before a potential end-of-half field-goal for the Jets, the Broncos went three-and-out to open the second half and would not record another first down until the 6:35 mark in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't do enough to stay in rhythm, we didn't play clean football offensively and that's the whole reason we lost this football game," McGlinchey said. "It's unfortunate, but that's the reality — and we've got to be better."
The defense, meanwhile, allowed a 72-yard Breece Hall touchdown run on the Jets' first play of the second half. While the Broncos were able to hold New York to field goals rather than touchdowns on all five of its red-zone possessions, the Jets still built a 24-13 lead with 7:27 to play.
"We're going to have to find out," inside linebacker Josey Jewell said of the struggles stopping the run. "We're going to have to look at the tape. Not exactly sure what happened. A couple guys out of place every single time, it seems like. We've got to be able to have that communication and execution and stay in our gaps and play football."
While the Broncos would put themselves in position to rally late, they ultimately fell short to drop to 0-3 at home this season. And while Denver lost the first two games by a combined three points and had a chance to tie Sunday's game late, Wilson said the potential of a better start to the season only means so much.
"That's the truth," Wilson said. "We really should and could be 4-1. But 'coulda, shoulda, woulda' is not good enough."
As the Broncos look to move forward on a short week, they know the onus to improve falls solely on their shoulders.
"No one cares about what ails us or woes us," Payton said. "They want to see production, and that's the business we're in. We have a quick turnaround, a lot of recovery work tomorrow, a lot of game-plan film tomorrow, and then we're onto practicing for Kansas City. This one hurts. We didn't play well. … We started off, I thought, fairly well, but we didn't play well enough."