LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Denver Broncos let an opportunity slip away on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders, and their chances of returning to the postseason for the first time since winning Super Bowl 50 are in jeopardy.
“Any time we go out there, we want to win,” Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. “We’re going to try our (butt) off this week to get our eighth win, and then we’re going to try our (butt) off next week.”
Allowing the Raiders to come from behind for a 17-13 win didn’t eliminate Denver (7-8) from playoff contention, but it does put the team at 13th in the AFC with two games to play. The Cleveland Browns have the same record and own the head-to-head tiebreaker, and there could be a four-way tie for the final wild card spot if the Miami Dolphins (7-7) defeat the New Orleans Saints on Monday.
“We’re not thinking about next year,” Broncos linebacker Bradley Chubb said. “We’re thinking about these next two weeks against the (Kansas City) Chiefs and (Los Angeles) Chargers and we’re going to go out there and ruin somebody’s chances.”
The Broncos did not have starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who was placed in concussion protocol last week, or starting center Lloyd Cushenberry III (reserve/COVID-19 list).
Instead, Drew Lock made his first start of the season, finishing 15 of 22 for 153 yards. Lock, who started 13 games last season, led an offensive unit that was held to its lowest output of the season on Sunday with 158 total yards. The Broncos were 1 of 10 on third down and had just eight first downs.
The third-year quarterback also was the Broncos’ leading rusher: 10 yards on two carries. Denver finished with 18 yards on the ground.
“It felt great to be back out there,” Lock said. “Even the whole week after our first practice Wednesday, just being in the huddle and calling plays … it was weird not having that.”
The Broncos’ defense did what it could to give Lock chances, holding an opponent to less than 20 points for the fourth time in five games and forced three turnovers.
And Denver had momentum going into the break. A fumble by Raiders running back Josh Jacobs set up a 55-yard field goal by Brandon McManus with 32 seconds left in the half. On the first play of Las Vegas’ next drive, Chubb intercepted Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on a screen pass and returned it to the 1-yard line, where running back Javonte Williams scored soon after.
The Broncos took a 13-7 lead — and only 96 total yards — into halftime.
“That was a fantastic play and obviously one we needed,” Fangio said of Chubb’s interception.
The Raiders opened the second half with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that was dominated by Jacobs. After being held to 25 yards on nine carries in the first half, Jacobs ran seven times for 57 yards on that drive. Peyton Barber capped it off with a 5-yard touchdown to give the Raiders a 14-13 lead.
“One play (during) like a 13-play drive, I remember looking at our guys, we weren’t breathing that heavy (and) I remember looking at them and everybody had their hands on their hips, and I said ‘Yeah, we’re about to start gashing them,’” said Jacobs, who had his first 100-yard game of the season with 129 — 104 of them in the second half. “And that’s just kind of what happened.
“I think we came in prepared and mentally we just wanted it more.”
Fangio said Bridgewater will start at Los Angeles on Sunday if he’s ready to go, but Lock said he will prepare to be the starter this week and keep his team’s postseason chances alive, slim as they may be.
“They’re disappointed like we all are, but these guys are competitors, they’re fighters,” Fangio said. “We’re going to do everything we can to get that eighth win.”
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