KANSAS CITY — On another afternoon, perhaps the Broncos cap the comeback.
On another day at Arrowhead, without 20 players on injured reserve, perhaps the Broncos would have marched down the field and scored.
After the Broncos' 27-24 loss, a 15th consecutive defeat at the hands of the Chiefs, Russell Wilson could imagine the scenario.
"This football team, they have a chance to win it all," Wilson said about the Broncos' division rival. "I think that if we have all our guys against all their guys, we've got a great chance."
The Broncos certainly didn't go to Kansas City for a moral victory. As Wilson and Interim Head Coach Jerry Rosburg detailed after the game, the Broncos were determined to find a way to snap a skid that dates back to 2015.
"We were trying to win," Rosburg said. "Here's the deal: We didn't come here to try to look good and hold up. We came here to win."
Until the final moments, the Broncos had that chance. After falling into a 10-point hole with 12:36 to play, Denver drove 75 yards to cut the lead to three points, and the Broncos' defense forced a series of incompletions to get the ball back for the offense. With two minutes to play, the Broncos faced a third-and-5 at their own 42-yard line. Denver, though, would fall short on a final play that went awry at the snap. On fourth-and-2, Graham Glasgow snapped the ball early — Wilson said Glasgow thought the Chiefs jumped offside — and Wilson was not ready for the ball. He was dragged down for the fourth sack of the afternoon, and the Broncos' chances for a win fell with him.
"Wish we could've had that last play back," Wilson said. "Maybe we can pick up the first down there and keep going and go win the game."
Denver only had to battle back because of a questionable call that changed the tone of the game. With the Broncos leading 17-13 late in the third quarter, Wilson uncorked a deep pass to Courtland Sutton on third-and-11 that Sutton hauled in between two defenders for a 44-yard gain. Sutton, though, was whistled for offensive pass interference — a "highly, highly unfortunate" call, Rosburg later deemed it.
"Apparently — when I asked the official that threw the flag — he said that I pushed the defender in the chest to make the catch and that's where the flag came from," Sutton said. "But you guys can watch the film and see what happened."
Instead of holding the ball at the Kansas City 40-yard line with a four-point lead, Denver faced third-and-19 from its own 8-yard line and had to punt one play later.
"That was a big play for us," Sutton said. "I thought that we were going to be able to make that play and convert on that third down and move the ball and keep moving the ball like we had been. It was unfortunate. … Things happen; it's on us to be able to bounce back and make another play. We were able to get something going after that, but it wasn't enough and we weren't able to get points on the board, which is what we needed to do."
The Chiefs marched quickly down the field to retake the lead, and Wilson was picked off on the first play of the Broncos' ensuing possession. The Chiefs scored another touchdown after taking over at the Denver 17-yard line, and the Broncos appeared in too deep of a hole to respond.
But Denver did not flinch.
"I have the deepest respect and gratitude for the men in that room, because they fought," Rosburg said. "They fought till the very end. And that's worth a lot to me."
Playing without their two starting edge rushers, two of their three starting defensive linemen and their rookie cornerback who was pressed into a starting role earlier this year, the Broncos' defense held the Chiefs to 2-of-9 on third down and forced three three-and-outs in the third quarter. Safety Justin Simmons also recorded an end-zone interception of Mahomes to post a career-high sixth pick of the year.
Offensively, Denver tied its second highest point total of the season and operated well with Offensive Coordinator Justin Outten calling plays for the first time this season.
"I made the decision to move Justin in the box because I wanted Klint on the sideline with Russell Wilson," Rosburg said. "That is a relationship — a quarterback coach and a quarterback — it's different. … They see the game differently. I wanted Klint with Russell. I didn't want the plays called from the sideline. That's why I had so much confidence in Justin to put him up in the box and call the plays."
Wilson was particularly effective with his legs, carrying the ball four times for 27 yards and two touchdowns. The Broncos' quarterback also threw a touchdown pass to Albert Okwuegbunam, the third-year player's first score in a season in which he's seen significant snaps in just five games.
Denver, though, could not quite do enough to earn a win. A strip-sack late in the second quarter cost the Broncos at least three points, and Wilson's interception set the Chiefs up to take a two-possession lead.
"I'm heartbroken for those guys because they deserve a win, and I'm heartbroken for our Denver fans because this whole streak thing that you all know about and I keep getting asked about … has got to stop," Rosburg said. "And the only way it's going to stop is if we stop making errors down the stretch of the game or we stop making errors at the beginning of the game to put us behind the eight ball. Those things have got to stop."
Instead of a feel-good win during a week in which Denver parted ways with a trio of coaches and installed an interim head coach, the Broncos were handed their ninth one-score loss of the season and their third consecutive one-score loss to Kansas City.
Wilson, though, can see that brighter times are ahead. On this January afternoon in Kansas City, the Broncos were unable to finish off a signature win.
With a few more players and a few more plays, Wilson believes they'll enjoy soon arrive at that day.
"Obviously the team we played today, [that's] a really good football team [in] the Chiefs," Wilson said. "They've got a lot of really great players and all that. But what we believe is when we get everybody back, we're going to be back here next year and fighting for it all. And that means something. That means something for us about where we're going and where we're headed."