ENGLEWOOD – There’s one thing nobody in the NFL does better than the Denver Broncos. The Broncos’ 27-23 loss at Minnesota marked the league-leading fourth time they’ve squandered a fourth-quarter lead this season.
“We have to learn to finish,” running back Phillip Lindsay said. “We are a young team learning how to do that. As you can see, we are not far off from those teams. We have to finish. We had these games in the book.”
The Broncos (3-7) have lost three games in the final 22 seconds, including two as time expired as they surrendered field goal drives in two-point losses to the Bears, Jaguars and Colts.
On Sunday, they became the first team in five years to blow a halftime lead of 20 or more points.
They had their chances to rectify their second-half collapse but three Brandon Allen passes into the end zone from the Vikings 4 in the final 10 seconds all fell incomplete. On one of them, cornerback Trae Waynes grabbed Tim Patrick’s face mask but drew no flag, and on the game’s final play, safety Jayron Kearse had a fistful of tight end Noah Fant’s jersey but likewise wasn’t whistled.
The Broncos know officials are loath to penalize such tussling in these situations, so what really drew their wrath were their own mistakes in a collective meltdown:
—Defensive miscommunications that allowed Minnesota to score touchdowns on all four of its second-half drives after going 0-for-8 in the first half.
—Clock mismanagement at the end that deprived them of one more shot at the end zone.
—And veteran kicker Brandon McManus missing on a 43-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that loomed large.
“Well, you’re always concerned when a guy misses a kick, especially one I believe it was 42 and the operation was good, there was no flaws there,” coach Vic Fangio said Monday. “He just missed it. And he’s got to make those plays there.”
The abundance of close calls hasn’t crushed his team, Fangio said.
“These guys like to come to work. They’re giving us great effort on the practice field,” he said. “You can see the effort that we’re giving on Sundays.”
It doesn’t get any easier next week when the Broncos travel to Buffalo, where the resurgent Bills are 7-3 and heading into a stretch run that features the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, Ravens, Steelers and Patriots before closing against the Jets.
Allen gets another start next weekend as the Broncos head into their second week of practice for rookie Drew Lock, who has been on IR all season after spraining his right thumb in August.
“We’ll continue to do what we did last week, get him some reps both on the scout team and get him some reps with the offense and see how he’s progressing,” Fangio said, adding that activating Lock this week to serve as Allen’s backup was “unlikely but possible.”
WHAT’S WORKINGWR Courtland Sutton. Despite being bracketed by a cornerback and safety all day, he caught five passes for 113 yards, including a 48-yarder that helped stake Denver to its big first-half lead. He also threw a 38-yard pass and ran twice for 10 yards.
WHAT NEEDS HELPMcManus’ latest miss came when he kicked the ground, sending the ball wide right and giving the Vikings great field position. Three plays later, Stefon Diggs trotted into the end zone on a 54-yard TD when S Kareem Jackson blew the coverage.
STOCK UPDE Shelby Harris’ trio of sacks marked his first career multi-sack game. He also forced a fumble. ILB Todd Davis had 13 tackles, helping hold RB Dalvin Cook to a mere 26 yards on 11 carries.
STOCK DOWNLT Garett Bolles, a mainstay in this category. His holding call and false start gave him 42 flags in 42 career starts, which have cost the Broncos 490 yards in field position when results on declined penalties are included.
INJURIESFB Andy Janovich’s dislocated right elbow will land him on IR just five weeks after he signed a three-year extension.
KEY NUMBER4 for 4. The Broncos’ fourth-down success rate Sunday.
NEXT STEPSOn to Buffalo, where the Bills are off to their best start after 10 games since 1999.