LANDOVER, Md. --After back-to-back wins allowed the Broncos to find their footing following a disastrous eight-game stretch, the Broncos found a lump of coal in their stocking on Christmas Eve, falling 27-11 to the Redskins on Sunday at FedExField.
Three turnovers -- including two in the second quarter -- doomed the Broncos to a defeat that dropped them to 5-10 with one game remaining in a frustrating regular season.
"When we're not playing smart, clean football, that's your result," Head Coach Vance Joseph said.
Why did the Broncos fall Sunday?
Because a turnover changed the flow of the game**
The Broncos were not leading with 4:41 remaining in the second quarter, but they had plenty of momentum. Running backs C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker had combined for 86 yards on 15 carries, including a pair of 21-yard runs by Anderson on back-to-back series. Three consecutive series had gained multiple first downs and they were looking for a fourth. They had as many first downs on the ground (three) as through the air.
Then, the pocket collapsed, Brock Osweiler lost the football as he was sacked by Preston Smith, and the Broncos were back on ground that was all too familiar to them during their losing streak.
Washington linebacker Zach Vigil recovered the football at the Denver 38-yard line, and the Redskins marched to their first touchdown of the game five plays later on a 15-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Jamison Crowder.
"With 4:33 to go [in the second quarter], we've outgained them by almost 100 yards, so what we've done well the last two weeks, it was working again, but obviously turnovers appeared again," Joseph said. "That kills you."
It was the third time this month that an opponent has mounted a touchdown drive on a possession that began in Denver territory. Washington scored its final touchdown in the fourth quarter after a Booker fumble that allowed it to start at the Denver 35-yard line, meaning that four of the seven touchdowns allowed by the Broncos this month have come on drives that began at the 50-yard line or in Denver territory.
Despite Osweiler's fumble, the Broncos looked like they could rebound from the misfortune on their next series. Booker picked up 27 yards on a catch and a carry, and a Washington penalty moved the Broncos to the Redskins' 42-yard line. But Osweiler was pressured and intercepted by D.J. Swearinger at the Washington 30-yard line on the next play, ending that potential scoring threat.
Because the Broncos squandered a chance for three points before halftime**
Denver's defense was able to crank up the pressure after Swearinger's interception and force a three-and-out that was aided by a wayward third-down snap that forced a 12-yard loss. Denver called its final timeout of the first half after that play, but the stop still gave the Broncos one more chance with 52 seconds left before halftime.
Osweiler took advantage. On the third play of the ensuing series, he hit Jordan Taylor on a 22-yard strike down the middle to move the Broncos to the Washington 31-yard line. With 24 seconds left in the half, Osweiler spiked the football to stop the clock on the next snap. Everything was going right for the Broncos to get three points and close the gap.
But after an incompletion on an attempt to Bennie Fowler III, their hopes went astray when Isaiah McKenzie turned back in-bounds instead of going out of bounds with a short catch from Osweiler, who frantically waved his hands toward the sideline, but to no avail.
The clock expired with the Broncos unable to run another play, and the Broncos lost a chance for three points that could have changed the complexion of the game in the third quarter.
McKenzie's decision to stay inbounds was "unacceptable," Joseph said.
"Well, he should be aware [of the game situation]. He was told," Joseph said. "That stuff, we work on all the time. So that's no excuse at all that he wouldn't know that. He was told we had no timeouts. It was an outside throw or nothing, and we had three points. That's something he has to know." **
Because the Broncos struggled to protect Osweiler**
Although the Broncos ran the ball early, often and effectively, they were unable to contain Washington's pass rush, as Osweiler was hit nine times, including four sacks -- one of which resulted in the fumble that Washington converted into its first touchdown of the game.
"We couldn't block their front, so that's not on Brock," Joseph said. "I thought Brock was playing good football in the first half, again, until the fumble and interception happened in the first half. Our formula was to run the football and keep the third downs makeable, and that, we were doing until four minutes [remained] in the first half, and it fell apart."
Because Washington was able to put the game out of reach early in the fourth quarter
With the Broncos trying to get a stop and get back in the game with 12:15 left in the fourth quarter, the Redskins bunched three receivers to the right side on second-and-6 from the 48-yard line.
Josh Doctson was able to emerge from the crowd and get wide open down the right flank of the field, and once Cousins located him, he easily caught a pass and scored to put the Broncos down 20-3.
The touchdown was one of two that was given up because of an issue that boiled down to "communication between the two corners," Joseph said. Denver allowed a final score to Vernon Davis that was simply the result of "just a guy getting beat."
Photos of game action from the Broncos' Week 16 game against Washington. (Photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)