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'We've got to find a way to win these things': Broncos can't close out win, fall 10-9 as Ravens storm back late

BALTIMORE —As Brandon McManus' 63-yard last-ditch field-goal attempt fell short, so too did the Broncos' chances of upsetting the Baltimore Ravens.

The Broncos win probability — which was as high as 86.3 percent with less than five minutes to play in the game — thudded back to earth as quickly as the football hit the grass.

The disappointment and despair and last-second heartbreak has become all too familiar for this Broncos team, which lost for the eighth time in its last nine games.

Denver has now lost seven one-possession games, and five of those losses have been decided on the final play of the game.

"I've never really lost many games like this," Russell Wilson said. "It's a new feeling — one I don't like, one I don't want to experience and one we have to figure out how to … not experience this as a collective group. I'm used to us finding ways to win." 

The Broncos, despite facing reserve quarterback Tyler Huntley for much of the game after Lamar Jackson was knocked out with a knee injury at the end of the first quarter, instead found a way to again come up short.

After holding the Ravens to fewer than 200 yards for the game, the Broncos gave up a 16-play, 91-yard, go-ahead touchdown drive that spanned more than four-and-a-half minutes and featured seven first downs and a pair of fourth-down conversions. The Broncos are now 0-for-5 this season when holding a halftime lead.

"The fact of the matter is, this one sucks," Justin Simmons said. "We gave ourselves a chance to win and defensively we didn't close out. We can't play three-and-a-half quarters of good football and then give up the two-minute drive there at the end and then be satisfied with that. The type of defense we have, we still haven't played our best ball yet, which really sucks. The biggest thing that hurts is knowing it's not an effort issue. Guys were out there battling on both sides and special teams, battling all day. And we just fell short."

Simmons, single-handedly, nearly did enough to earn the Broncos the win. He undercut a third-quarter Huntley pass to Mark Andrews for his second interception of the season and set the Broncos up at the Baltimore 40-yard line. Denver, though, would gain just eight yards on the ensuing offensive possession and settle for a field goal that put the team up 9-3 with 4:03 to play in the third quarter.

On the next drive, Simmons took advantage of a poor decision and throw by Ravens receiver James Proche II on a double reverse to snag another interception. The Broncos picked up just one first down on the ensuing drive before they were forced to punt.

In total, the Broncos went three-and-out on three occasions and picked up more than one first down on just four drives. The Broncos were held out of the end zone — their fifth game this season with 10 points or fewer — and were just 2-of-12 on third down.

"In the end, we have to make that last play, but at the same time we have to be more efficient throughout the game," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said. "I didn't think it was a very good offensive football game all around. We didn't get into the red zone. We didn't score any touchdowns. It's not just the second half. It's not the first half. We've got to find a way to move the football continuously. Third down, again, is probably the thing that's the most frustrating across the board, especially when you're in those third down and manageables. Those have continually been our Achilles heel, and we have to get that right."

View exclusive photos of the Broncos' game vs. the Ravens by team photographers.

When the Broncos did find momentum, they often had a hard time sustaining it. On Denver's penultimate drive, Wilson found Greg Dulcich for a 30-yard gain to the Baltimore 47-yard line. Denver proceeded to lose a yard on the ensuing first-down play and then throw two incomplete passes before punting the ball back to the Ravens.

In the first half, Wilson connected with Jerry Jeudy — who battled through injury to lead the Broncos in receiving — hauled in a 40-yard catch that kick-started a Denver field-goal drive. The Broncos, though, were unable to turn the drive into a touchdown, as an ensuing Jeudy catch was ruled short of the first-down mark. Hackett elected to kick the field goal and take a 6-3 lead into halftime.

"[I] thought our defense was playing at a very high level," Hackett said. "I thought we did a good job moving the ball down there. Did not want to go into the half without points."

McManus, who passed Jason Elam for the most field goals of at least 50 yards in franchise history, did his part to give the Broncos the lead. And until the final moments, it seemed like a 9-3 margin would be enough to earn the Broncos their fourth win of the season.

Denver just couldn't quite close it out.

And while the offense surely must be better, the Broncos' defenders took their share of the blame for bending — and finally breaking — in the two-minute drill.

"That's on the defense," DeShawn Williams said. "That's our fault. We're supposed to be this top-level defense. We've got to find ways in that situation to get off the field. We had our chances, and we had some dumb penalties. Offense did everything they did. They played hard. That was just simply on us. We've got to get off the field and end that game." 

The final 23 seconds offered one last glimmer of hope, as Wilson found Jeudy for a first down before he scrambled forward and absorbed a big hit to give Denver at least a chance at the win. McManus' attempt, though, came up short — and the Broncos fell to their sixth consecutive losing season.

"We've got to finish," Hackett said. "Guys know that. We can't play a great game the whole game and not all the way down to the last second. We just have to find a way to finish these games. They've been all so close. I give so much credit to our football team for battling nonstop throughout the whole game. Everybody's trying to do everything they can to win, so I give them credit for that. But it hurts to lose, especially that way.

"We've got to find a way to win these things."

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