Rams 36, Broncos 33
Busted one day, beaten the next.
By the time the Denver Broncos' 20-point fourth-quarter rally fell short in a 36-33 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, Invesco Field was mostly empty, and dark storm clouds hung over both the city and its tarnished football franchise.
A day after the NFL fined the Broncos and their coach in a videotaping scandal, Rams rookie Sam Bradford had his first 300-yard game and team owner Stan Kroenke - whose Denver-based sports empire includes the Nuggets, Avalanche and the MLS champion Rapids - had a game ball courtesy of Steven Jackson.
With the win, St. Louis (5-6) moved into a tie with Seattle for first place in the NFC West.
''This was a huge step for this team, taking it to the next level,'' Bradford said of his first road win. ''It's obviously something we've struggled with earlier in the year. But to finally clear that hurdle, I feel like only things can get better now.''
The Broncos (3-8) are feeling the same way.
Embattled coach Josh McDaniels spoke about his team's 16th loss in 21 games, but declined to say much more about the scandal that resulted in $50,000 fines for him and his organization and cost video operations director Steve Scarnecchia his job.
Scarnecchia, who taped San Francisco's walkthrough a day before Denver's loss to the 49ers in London last month, was part of the New England video staff that was involved in the original Spygate scandal.
McDaniels declined to respond to new reports he told his staff on Friday that the Broncos' videotaping troubles weren't on the same magnitude as the systemic illicit videotaping that happened in New England.
''I'm not going to talk about any reports or anything like that,'' McDaniels said, cutting off the question. ''We addressed that all yesterday. I'm done with that. I'm done talking about that. OK? Thanks.''
His players said they weren't bothered by the scandal enveloping the embarrassed organization.
''There wasn't one bit of distraction. We had one team meeting over it and it was pretty much over after three minutes,'' quarterback Kyle Orton said after Denver's six loss in its last seven home games. ''There's stuff that happens throughout an entire NFL season and as pros and as men you worry about your own business.''
It clearly left others befuddled, however.
''Nobody really knows how to take it,'' Champ Bailey said. ''Obviously, we didn't see any tapes. And if we did, it didn't work.''
Bailey said he felt bad for team owner Pat Bowlen because the scandal stained the organization. Justin Bannan said he felt bad for his coach.
''Josh didn't do anything wrong,'' Bannan insisted. ''Josh is a great coach and we've got his back and he's got ours. Obviously, things are tough right now, but what are you going to do? What we're going to do is come out and play better football.''
They are well on their way to a fifth straight season without a playoff berth.
''When I got here we made the playoffs the first two years and it was supposed to be a common thing,'' Bailey said. ''And it's been downhill ever since.''
This could be rock bottom.
The Broncos' 5-16 slide is their worst 21-game stretch in four decades. They stripped the captaincy from linebacker D.J. Williams for a drunken driving arrest two weeks ago. Now this.
''I've got an old saying that you've got to go through it to get to it,'' linebacker Mario Haggan said. ''And for some reason, somehow, some way, at some point we're going to reap the rewards and the benefits for a couple of dark clouds that have been hitting this team.''
With signs in the crowd calling for McDaniels' firing, a 33-3 run by the Rams gave St. Louis a seemingly safe 33-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter, but Orton threw TD passes of 41 and 5 yards to Brandon Lloyd and 16 yards to Eddie Royal to make a game of it.
The Broncos got the ball back with 1:06 remaining and no timeouts, but they had a sack, a dropped pass, an overthrow and an incompletion when defensive end Chris Long hit Orton as he released his last pass.
By then, the stadium was mostly empty.
''There was no quitting going on,'' Orton said. ''We've got good character guys on the team and we'll continue to fight.''
Bradford was 22 of 37 for 308 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. He drove the Rams on three straight touchdown drives and two more than ended in field goals after the Broncos took a 10-0 lead.
Bradford's TD tosses all went to tight ends. Michael Hoomanawanui rumbled into the end zone for a 36-yard score after slipping safety Brian Dawkins at the 13. Bill Bajema then scored his first two touchdowns of his six-year NFL career with catches of 2 and 26 yards, the latter when he was uncovered.
''I was selling the run and I slipped out and nobody was around,'' Bajema said. ''Sam put it right on me. All I had to do was just jog into the end zone.''
Notes: Moreno has scored TDs on the Broncos' opening drive three straight weeks. ... Jackson had 72 yards on 29 carries. ... Dawkins left in the third quarter with a right knee injury and didn't return. He was replaced by Nate Jones.