Reeling Broncos try to regroup against Eagles
Josh McDaniels rattled off a lengthy list of miscues and missteps that ended up derailing Denver in a last-minute loss to the Oakland Raiders.
The bright spot, the Broncos coach quickly pointed out Monday, was that his team was ``far from being dead'' in the postseason picture.
True enough, but the Broncos (8-6) made their path to the playoffs a whole lot more challenging. Denver had a chance to move a giant step closer to locking up an AFC wild-card spot, only to have JaMarcus Russell come off the bench to rally the Raiders in a 20-19 win.
Just like that, the Broncos gave a slew of teams renewed hope, including the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7).
Even with their recent slump, though, the Broncos are still in control of their postseason chances. A win in Philadelphia, followed by another at home against Kansas City, and they're in.
It's that simple.
But they're not favored against an Eagles team that's won five straight games. A loss there only complicates things even more, a fact the Broncos are well aware of.
``We put ourselves in this predicament, so we've got to get ourselves out of it,'' quarterback Kyle Orton said Sunday.
After a 6-0 start, the Broncos have stumbled into a late-season funk. This is a slide that's become all too familiar in the Mile High City in recent years. Not even a new coach and a retooled roster could prevent it.
Last season, the Broncos went through a similar swoon, losing three straight with three to go to miss the playoffs for a third year in a row.
This season, Denver has dropped six of eight, allowing the San Diego Chargers to storm back from a 3 1/2-game deficit and clinch their fourth straight division crown.
Given his team's freefall, McDaniels was asked about the psyche of his players. He swiftly remarked it wasn't an issue - or so he would hope.
``If we're concerned about our mental state now, then we've got other issues,'' McDaniels said Sunday.
At times this season, the Broncos have thrived in pressure situations. They weren't expected to win against New England or at San Diego, but found a way. Same with a game on Thanksgiving against the New York Giants.
Do the Broncos play better with the pressure turned up?
``I don't think that attitude or mindset is going to help us win the game. ... It doesn't work that way,'' McDaniels said. ``This is a very harsh league. If you don't play well enough against anybody, you are going to be in a dogfight or you're going to find yourself on the losing end.''
The Oakland game was a prime example. Blame the offense for red-zone inefficiency or failing to run time off the clock late in the game.
Either that or rebuke the defense for not clamping down on the tailback tandem of Michael Bush and Darren McFadden, who shredded the Broncos for a combined 207 yards rushing, or stopping Russell's late surge.
McDaniels chalked the loss up to a little bit to all of the above.
``We just missed so many opportunities in critical situations,'' said McDaniels, who is hoping to have tailback Correll Buckhalter (ankle) and safety Renaldo Hill (ankle) back Sunday against the Eagles. ``Those ultimately always come back to haunt you.''
Denver still had a chance to seal the win late in the game. Up 16-13, Brandon Stokley snared a pass from Orton and sprinted 63 yards before being horse-collared by Stanford Routt at the Oakland 4. Routt's penalty pushed the ball to the 2, but saved the game-clinching touchdown.
The Broncos struggled to punch it in, settling for Matt Prater's fourth field goal that made it 19-13 and left the Raiders within a touchdown with less than six minutes left.
With the door ajar, the Raiders burst through as Russell found Chaz Schilens on a 10-yard TD pass with 35 seconds remaining to deal a blow to Denver's playoff plans.
Now, the Broncos are trying to bounce back against an Eagles team playing well.
``This is one of the best teams in all of football,'' McDaniels said. ``We expect it to be a really difficult preparation, a difficult game. ... If you think you're going to do much in January, you've got to be able to play good teams on the road and play your best football and ultimately make the plays you need to make to win.''