Given a chance to inject themselves back into the AFC West race, the Denver Broncos instead played themselves into real trouble on Sunday.
A 13-10 road loss to the Tennessee Titans dropped Denver to 8-5 and in need of help.
Not only did the Broncos remain two games out of first in the division with three games remaining, the Broncos now trail Pittsburgh, which improved to 8-5 with a 27-20 win Sunday in Buffalo, for the second wild-card.
What’s more, Denver’s finishing schedule is tough. It hosts New England next week, travels to Kansas City on Christmas night and ends the season with Oakland — teams with a combined record of 30-8.
But the defending Super Bowl champs aren’t planning to concede.
“The schedule is nasty, but we can win those games,” outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “I feel like everybody has to be on the same accord and have that mentality of do-or-die.”
Proper mentality is one thing. Proper production is another thing altogether. If the Broncos are to get back to the playoffs, they have to figure out a way to get things going offensively.
Quarterback Trevor Siemian returned from a one-game absence with a foot injury. Although his stats looked good — 35 of 51, 334 yards and a touchdown — he was pressured most of the game and couldn’t hit a deep ball against a defense that’s allowed its share of them.
There was no help from a running game that gained only 18 yards on nine carries. New acquisition Justin Forsett fumbled on his first carry for Denver and didn’t deliver the impact some hoped for, although coach Gary Kubiak did praise his ability to pick up blitzes so quickly.
And the run defense was gashed again, living down to its No. 28 ranking by allowing 138 yards in the first half and 180 for the game.
All of those things leave Denver in a tough spot, needing wins against a brutal schedule and requiring help from one of Pittsburgh’s last three opponents.
“I’ve been part of a hell of a lot worse and come out of it,” Kubiak said. “We’re going to keep battling. I’m a battler. Those guys in the locker room are battlers. We go back to work tomorrow.”
(Editing by Andrew Both)