ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. —Denver's undefeated start came crashing down in a 26-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Sunday.
Denver outgained the Bills, averaged 1.2 more yards per play, had more first downs, averaged more than twice as many yards per carry (4.8 yards to 2.3) and still fell on a frustrating afternoon.
"Don't get me wrong, it's a great team. But I feel like we're not supposed to lose to that team," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "I feel like we're supposed to come in here and we're supposed to win that game."
Why did the Broncos lose?
BECAUSE THE BRONCOS COULDN'T MAXIMIZE THEIR SCORING CHANCES**
After a slow start to the game with a pair of drives that ended in punts, the Broncos built some momentum in the middle third of the contest, marching into the red zone four times in a five-possession stretch that went from the first to the third quarter.
But the Broncos came up with only 16 points of a possible 28 from those drives. Another march inside the Buffalo 25-yard line ended in an interception, leaving the Broncos with 16 of a possible 35 points on drives that entered scoring range.
"To win a road game, you've got to be great in the red zone, great on turnovers, great on third downs, and those things, we didn't do," Head Coach Vance Joseph said.
"We didn't play the critical parts of the game well today, so we didn't win the football game. Bottom line."
BECAUSE THEY LOST THE TURNOVER BATTLE**
Two second-half interceptions helped doom the Broncos' hopes.
"You can't do that at home, much less on the road," quarterback Trevor Siemian said.
The first interception, which came when Siemian rolled left and threw into traffic looking for Bennie Fowler III, didn't cost the Broncos anything, as the defense subsequently came up with a three-and-out that was aided by a Bills holding penalty on the first snap.
"I thought [Fowler] was going in and ended up going out. But I'm responsible there," Siemian said. "Every ball that goes in the air I'm responsible for. You can't do that back there and you can't turn it over anywhere, but backed up like that, you can't do that."
The second interception was the game-changer. The Broncos were trailing, 23-16, but had momentum, having driven to the Buffalo 24-yard line after a series that saw a pair of passes to Demaryius Thomas and a 12-yard Jamaal Charles sprint.
Siemian faced pressure from Eddie Yarbrough and looked to his right, throwing a pass that Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White intercepted. Buffalo capitalized, bleeding seven minutes, 30 seconds from the clock on the subsequent drive to a Steven Hauschka field goal.
"It was a bend-but-don't-break defense with a lot of shell coverage," Joseph said. "[Siemian] is trying to make plays. I can't fault him on that. We want him to be smart with the ball, but he has been smart with the ball and he has made those plays before."
BECAUSE OF COSTLY PENALTIES**
The Broncos finished the game with 10 penalties for 79 yards, both of which were season highs. Two flags in particular proved costly.
With five minutes remaining in the second quarter, Cody Latimer sprinted downfield to blow up a Brandon Tate punt return. With De'Angelo Henderson providing an assist, Latimer and Henderson stopped Tate for an 8-yard loss, giving the Broncos a net of 58 yards on Riley Dixon's punt, forcing the Bills to start their ensuing possession at their 31-yard line.
Or so it seemed.
Back upfield, a flag sat on the turf for an illegal-formation penalty, causing a do-over. Dixon's 43-yard punt was returned 17 yards, giving the Bills possession at the Denver 32-yard line.
The penalty was officially 5 yards, but the rekick gave the Bills an additional 37 yards of field position. It flipped the field, setting up a 49-yard Hauschka field goal —- which came after the defense forced the Buffalo offense off the field after three plays.
Another penalty put the Broncos in a deficit from which they could not recover.
With 7:38 remaining in regulation, the Broncos had the Bills stopped on downs at the Buffalo 46-yard-line, but outside linebacker Von Miller was called for a controversial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
"I can't put my team in situations like that," Miller said. "I brought us home 50 million times. I closed games 50 million times. I've got to be smarter than that. I'm always on the rookies and on the young guys on being smart and doing this and doing that, and I go out there and I do something at a crucial situation in the game. I've just got to do better than that."
The flag resuscitated the Bills' drive, allowing them to march to a 27-yard Hauschka field goal while draining an additional 4:24 off the clock. Denver was also forced to use all three of its timeouts on the series, which put the Broncos behind by 10 points.
"I killed the game with that penalty," Miller said.
Game-action photos from the Week 3 Broncos-Bills matchup at New Era Field. (Photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)