Ball, game slip away

Bron­cos run into road trou­ble; their playo≠ hopes take big hit Siemian plays well, but ground game gen­er­ates only 18 yards

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

Ten­nessee Ti­tans in­side line­backer Avery Wil­liamson strips the ball from the Bron­cos’ A.J. Derby for a fum­ble af­ter the tight end’s catch late in the fourth quar­ter Sun­day at Nis­san Sta­dium. The Ti­tans re­cov­ered, seal­ing their 13-10 vic­tory against the Bron­cos.

nashville, tenn.» The Bron­cos knew what was com­ing. They knew the Ti­tans’ plan of at­tack, they knew how they needed to counter, and they knew the dis­as­ter that could un­fold if they didn’t.

But knowl­edge alone couldn’t save them Sun­day.

Be­hind an of­fense that was in­ef­fi­cient for much of the game the Bron­cos lost to Ten­nessee 13-10, drop­ping them to 8-5 and putting their play­off hopes in doubt with games left against New Eng­land, at Kansas City and Oak­land, the AFC’s top three teams.

Quar­ter­back Trevor Siemian re­turned from a one-game ab­sence be­cause of a foot in­jury only to take more hits, in­clud­ing a pair of sacks, and suf­fer a lac­er­ated left hand. But he en­dured to com­plete 35-of-51 passes for 334 yards and one touch­down.

“We had some op­por­tu­ni­ties to make plays there at the end that he would be the first one to tell you that he could make a cou­ple of his plays too,” coach Gary Ku­biak said. “But he bat­tled through, did ev­ery­thing he

could pos­si­bly do. It just wasn’t enough.”

Siemian’s num­bers and his per­for­mance were im­pres­sive, con­sid­er­ing his phys­i­cal woes and a nonex­is­tent run game that pro­duced only 18 yards.

In the first half alone the Bron­cos had six pos­ses­sions, punt­ing five times and fum­bling once (cour­tesy of new run­ning back Justin Forsett on his first carry), went 0-for-4 on third downs and recorded a pal­try 12 yards rush­ing.

“I think our first carry to­day we put the ball on the ground . ... Ob­vi­ously there wasn’t much com­mit­ment to the run,” Ku­biak said.

The Ti­tans jumped to an early 10-0 lead and be­hind the quick feet of run­ning back DeMarco Mur­ray and quar­ter­back Mar­cus Mar­i­ota tal­lied 138 yards rush­ing in the first two quar­ters. They fin­ished with 180 yards rush­ing, sec­ond-most al­lowed by the Den­ver de­fense this sea­son.

Ev­ery­thing that could go wrong early on of­fense for Den­ver did. But what the of­fense lacked the de­fense seemed to gain, oc­ca­sion­ally with flared tem­pers.

Ti­tans wide re­ceiver Harry Dou­glas nailed cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris with a cheap shot to his right knee on a play late in the sec­ond quar­ter. Har­ris dropped to the ground in pain and his team­mates rushed to his de­fense.

“I’ve never had a player just try to end my ca­reer like that,” Har­ris said, still fum­ing about the play af­ter the game. “That was dirty. He should be fined. That’s not foot­ball.”

Har­ris slowly rose to his feet, but is­sued a few of his own words be­fore walk­ing off.

“I can’t even say what I said,” Har­ris said, ad­mit­ting he was at first wor­ried about hav­ing a ca­reer-end­ing in­jury. “I was sore, I’m not go­ing to lie. I was hurt­ing a lit­tle bit, but I toughed it out.”

Har­ris would return soon af­ter — but not be­fore cor­ner­back Aqib Talib pounced on Dou­glas on the next play, spark­ing a brief brawl that, amaz­ingly, drew only Talib a per­sonal foul.

“You cut some­body’s knees and they’re not even pay­ing at­ten­tion to you, that’s not right,” said out­side line­backer Shane Ray. “So the re­ac­tion we had as a de­fense, we’re not wrong at all. I would have done the same thing for any one of my other team­mates.”

The free first down al­lowed the Ti­tans’ drive to drag on and take many bizarre turns, with three penal­ties and chants of “Refs, you (stink)!” from the fans.

Af­ter 19 plays and 8:04 of game clock, the Ti­tans set­tled for a field goal that ex­tended their lead to 13-0 by half­time. The fight, though, seemed to shift the mo­men­tum. From that point, the Bron­cos’ de­fense took con­trol. The ticked-off sec­ondary held Mar­i­ota to 6-of-20 pass­ing for a mere 88 yards and a 45.4 passer rat­ing. He was sacked twice and had three of his passes de­flected.

The work of the Bron­cos’ de­fense left the door ajar for their of­fense to, as it usu­ally does, wait un­til the sec­ond half to come alive. On cue, it did.

Siemian opened the third quar­ter by spray­ing passes to wide re­ceivers Em­manuel San­ders and Jor­dan Tay­lor, an ob­vi­ous af­front to the dead run­ning game.

“Ob­vi­ously we were try­ing to play catch-up, so we are throw­ing the ball a lot. … That’s what we were do­ing best at the end of the game,” Ku­biak said.

On a drive later in the third quar­ter Ri­ley Dixon had a 16yard fake-punt com­ple­tion to Cody La­timer, and Siemian con­nected with De­mary­ius Thomas to con­vert two third-down plays. The drive was a re­vival of sorts — but it fell short of points, end­ing on a failed fourth-down at­tempt early in the fourth quar­ter.

The scor­ing drought would end, fi­nally, on the Bron­cos’ sub­se­quent drive, as they re­sorted to only pass­ing and Siemian found San­ders for a 3-yard touch­down. The Ti­tans’ lead was trimmed to a sin­gle score with 10 min­utes re­main­ing, plenty of time for it to be erased be­fore the fi­nal whis­tle, and the Bron­cos were put in po­si­tion to do just that.

Siemian found Thomas for a 13yard com­ple­tion on third down that put the Bron­cos at Ten­nessee’s 6-yard line, but a sack and a pass that bounced off the hands of Ben­nie Fowler at the goal line forced them to set­tle for a 34-yard field goal, mak­ing it 13-10.

Den­ver’s de­fense held again, but a fum­ble by tight end A.J. Derby in the fi­nal minute at the Bron­cos’ 40-yard line eroded their last hope and sealed Ten­nessee’s vic­tory.

“We had our chances down the stretch and we didn’t make the plays,” Siemian said. “But the start sure as heck didn’t help us.”

The Bron­cos’ of­fense couldn’t undo enough. The dis­as­ter had al­ready un­folded.

Avery Wil­liamson, left, of the Ti­tans throws Bron­cos cor­ner­back Aqib Talib out of the pile af­ter a tus­sle with Ten­nessee wide re­ceiver Harry Dou­glas dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter Sun­day. Talib was re­tal­i­at­ing for what he con­sid­ered a cheap shot by Dou­glas on Den­ver cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris. Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

Bron­cos tight end A.J. Derby is con­soled by cen­ter Matt Par­adis af­ter get­ting the ball stripped by Ten­nessee Ti­tans in­side line­backer Avery Wil­liamson for a fum­ble af­ter his catch late in the fourth quar­ter Sun­day. John Leyba, The Den­ver Post

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