DENVER — On the coldest day for a Broncos game in September or October since Oct. 19, 1969, the Broncos could not find enough consistent heat on offense or defense to snap their losing streak, falling 23-20 to the undefeated Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.
The Broncos never led, as the Rams took a 3-0 lead 3:37 into the game on a 26-yard Cairo Santos field goal and held the edge throughout the game, withstanding a late Denver rally. The Broncos outscored the Rams 17-3 after falling behind 20-3, but a failed on-side kickoff attempt with 1:22 remaining dashed their hopes of completing the comeback.
Why did the Broncos fall?
Because penalties cost the Broncos at least seven points
Avoidable infractions were an issue for the Broncos in their three previous defeats after a 2-0 start, and they remained so once again, preventing them from keeping pace with the Rams in the first half.
The first saw a taunting penalty and instant replay turn a potential 45-yard Emmanuel Sanders touchdown into first-and-10 at the Rams 16-yard line, at which point the Broncos' drive stalled. Sanders appeared to have caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Case Keenum off of a play-action fake to put the Broncos in front, but instant replay ruled him down at the Los Angeles 1-yard line.
Ordinarily, that would have given the Broncos first-and-goal at the 1, which they would have likely converted. But after catching the apparent touchdown, Sanders drew a taunting penalty. If the touchdown had stood, the officials would have enforced the penalty on the kickoff. But because replay moved the Broncos back to the 1, the flag was assessed from there, and the Broncos advanced just 6 yards on the following three plays, settling for a 28-yard Brandon McManus field goal.
"He knows better," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "I didn't see what happened, but obviously it was a big penalty for us. We went from being on the 1-yard line to the 16-yard line. He can't do that, he knows that."
Midway through the second quarter, back-to-back holding penalties against Garett Bolles and Max Garcia turned first-and-10 at the Los Angeles 35-yard line into second-and-30 from the Denver 45-yard line, ending a promising scoring chance. Denver drove 40 yards in three plays to the Los Angeles 35 before the infractions, which cost the Broncos a chance for at least three points via another McManus field goal.
"We've got to figure out ways to not beat ourselves, and give us a chance to win the game," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We keep beating ourselves every week, and it's hard to win like that."
Because Todd Gurley rampaged through the Broncos
Gurley rushed for a career-high 208 yards, and the Rams gained 270 yards on the ground as the Broncos allowed consecutive 200-yard team rushing games for the first time since Dec. 12 and 19 of 2010 against the Cardinals and Raiders, respectively.
The Broncos allowed a 200-yard rusher for the second consecutive week for the first time in team history. This also marks the first time the Broncos have ever allowed a pair of 200-yard runners in a single season; they surrendered 219 yards to Jets running back Isaiah Crowell last week.
"As a defense, we were top-5 against the run last year, and we've got to get back to having that kind of mentality," safety Will Parks said.
Such games like the one Gurley had have been virtual guarantees of victory for the Rams, who have now won 13 consecutive games when Gurley amasses at least 140 yards from scrimmage.
The performance of the Rams' ground game allowed them to overcome a pedestrian performance from their aerial attack, as Denver's pass defense held Jared Goff to 201 gross yards on 14-of-28 passing. The Broncos also sacked Goff five times and intercepted him once.
"Today, that was part of our game plan: to make them run the ball," Harris said. "Their offense has been putting up  points a game, so we were just trying to figure out a way to slow them down. We held them to 23 points. Usually, when you [hold] them to 23 points, that's a good day versus the Rams."
Because the Rams sustained drives on third down
Los Angeles converted eight of its 17 third-down attempts Sunday, and followed one of its failed third downs with a 10-yard Gurley touchdown gallop to the left side on fourth-and-1. That meant the Rams extended their drives on 53 percent of their third-down attempts Sunday.
A crucial conversion came on third-and-1 with 7:30 remaining, as Gurley surged through a pair of defenders who met him in the backfield for the single yard the Rams needed to avoid going three-and-out. One snap later, Robert Woods ran 12 yards to the right side, moving the Rams near midfield and allowing them to drain more precious time from the clock, hindering the Broncos' attempt to rally.
Later in the drive, Goff found Robert Woods for 19 yards on a wide-receiver screen, allowing the Rams to convert a third-and-13 and move into goal-to-go. The Rams didn't reach the end zone on that series, but the pass set up a 21-yard Santos field goal that put the Broncos down two scores once again.
Photos from Broncos photographers during the Broncos' Week 6 game against Rams.