ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) This isn't what John Elway had in mind when he acquired Vernon Davis from San Francisco just before the trade deadline.
Or, for that matter, what the Denver Broncos general manager expected of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas after agreeing on a $70 million contract in July.
Both seem prone to crucial drops at crucial times.
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Although the addition of Davis has allowed Denver to better use their tight ends in Gary Kubiak's zone-based offense, the two-time Pro Bowler has had two huge drops the past two weeks that might have allowed the Broncos (10-4) to avoid losses to Oakland and Pittsburgh.
And even though Thomas is in the midst of another big year statistically – 93 catches, 1,128 yards and five TDs – he has a dozen drops, many at crunch time.
Against the Raiders, Davis was wide open 20 yards downfield on fourth-and-5 from the Denver 38 when he bobbled Brock Osweiler's on-target pass and let it dribble to the grass with 3:45 left in the game. That came after Thomas dropped his third pass of the game, on third-and-4 with 6 1/2 minutes remaining and helped the Raiders to a stunning 15-12 win.
Both vowed to refocus for the Steelers game, and Thomas did catch two touchdown passes as the Broncos raced to a 17-point first-half lead.
But both bungled things again in the fourth quarter, which helped the Steelers close the game on a 24-0 run for a 34-27 win that put Denver in a precarious position in the AFC playoff race.
Thomas was wide open when he dropped a perfectly thrown pass with less than 3 minutes left and the Broncos down 7. But the biggest blunder came earlier with the game tied at 27: Osweiler had Davis open at the Broncos 35 on third-and-16 from the Denver 10. With several defenders closing in, Davis didn't haul in the pass on the run.
When it was suggested Monday that Davis might have flinched, Kubiak replied, ''You're going to get hit in this business every time you catch the ball.''
''You have to make great plays to be successful. … Brock was trying to fit a ball in there. It would be a great throw – it was a great throw. It would be a great catch. That's part of football,'' Kubiak said.
As soon as he said that, Kubiak pivoted and made a point of not pinning the blame for the loss on Davis.
''We have other plays that we need to make, too,'' Kubiak said. ''There are a lot of positive plays that we need to hang on to. A lot of positive things going on that we need to build from and not try to attack some negative here or there. We're going to stay focused on the positive and move forward.''
So, no harping on punter Britton Colquitt's continued poor performances. Or the missed extra point by Brandon McManus, who has missed kicks in four consecutive games. Or on Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr. giving up two touchdowns to Antonio Brown (16 catches for 189 yards) after not yielding a TD since 2013.
Harris asked for the blame for Denver's dive to be put squarely on his shoulders, not Davis or Thomas or the others.
''That's why he's a Pro Bowl player, and I think there is even more to come down the road for him,'' Kubiak said, adding. ''I know who I'd be voting for right now for MVP.
''Watching that kid play, I mean, he's something else, does it all day, plays extremely hard the entire game,'' Kubiak said. ''That was a tough matchup.''
The bumbling Broncos, who haven't scored in the third quarter in six weeks, have now blown double-digit leads in consecutive games after doing so just twice in the past two decades.
Heading into the home stretch, the Broncos, who host Cincinnati (11-3) on Monday night, are the only team in the NFL with an outside shot at the No. 1 seed in their conference or of missing the playoffs altogether.
''That's a crazy spectrum of possibilities,'' tight end Owen Daniels said. ''But we're ready for the challenge.''
With four safeties sidelined, the Broncos couldn't afford to wait out David Bruton Jr.'s broken right fibula, so they put him on IR Tuesday and signed free agent Shaun Prater.
Bruton played 75 plays on the broken leg Sunday and was hoping to be back on the field for the playoffs. He finishes the season with a career-best 42 tackles, seven pass breakups, two interceptions, two forced fumbles, a sack and six special teams stops.
Prater has played in 21 games with the Eagles, Vikings and Colts, including one each with Minnesota and Indianapolis this season.
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