Buffalo at Denver

Broncos slip up against Bills, fail to lock up AFC West

CBSSports.com wire reports
  •  

DENVER -- The battered and bumbling Denver Broncos couldn't render the San Diego Chargers irrelevant when they had the chance, and now they'll have to beat them to get to the playoffs.

The Broncos blew an early 13-0 lead and lost to the Buffalo Bills 30-23 Sunday in the second-coldest game in Denver's history, setting up an all-or-nothing game against the Chargers next week for the division title and a playoff berth.

The Broncos (8-7) led the Chargers (7-8) by three games with three to go, but now face the possibility of having led the AFC's woeful West by themselves from opening weekend through Christmas with nothing to show for it.

"Unfortunately we're not going to be able to go up there and take it easy," receiver Brandon Marshall said. "We're going to have to go up there in their back yard and prove to them that we're better than them. They're a good team, they're playing better now, and they've got all the momentum."

None of which matters, suggested Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler.

"If you would have told us at the beginning of the year that it was a one-game series with us down in San Diego to go to the playoffs, we probably would have taken it," Cutler said. "We've got to keep our heads up."

The Chargers beat Tampa Bay earlier in the day, and Denver will be facing a fired-up team in San Diego on Sunday night that everybody had given up for dead.

"Everybody was doubting them, talking bad about them this year," Denver linebacker D.J. Williams said. "Now they have a chance to throw everybody's words back in their face with a victory."

And keep the Broncos home for the postseason for the third straight year.

P.J. Pope became the sixth tailback to start in the Broncos' battered backfield -- and he went to the sideline in the first quarter with a tight left hamstring. Selvin Young came in and carried the load until leaving with a pinched nerve in his neck late in the third quarter, leaving Tatum Bell as the only healthy ball carrier.

Cutler threw for 359 yards and broke Jake Plummer's franchise record with 4,210 yards for the season, but he threw an interception to Kawika Mitchell at the goal line with six minutes left and then, with less than a minute left, cornerback Reggie Corner knocked the ball out of Brandon Stokley's hands in the end zone.

"I had both hands on the ball," Stokley said. "I've got to catch it. That's what they pay me to do."

The Broncos built a 13-0 lead only to watch Trent Edwards score on a 2-yard keeper and Rian Lindell kick field goals of 37, 49 and 28 yards as Buffalo (7-8) surged ahead 16-13 in the third quarter.

The Broncos, who outgained the Bills 532 yards to 275, retook the lead on Cutler's 6-yard keeper. The celebratory mood among the frozen fans, who endured temperatures that dipped into the single digits, ended quickly when Fred Jackson's 65-yard catch set up Steve Johnson's 3-yard touchdown grab that put Buffalo back on top, 23-20.

Nobody was more affected by the bitter cold than Broncos kicker Matt Prater, who came up short on a crucial field goal try just before halftime that swung the momentum and was forced to kick a series of squibs on kickoffs that continually gave Buffalo great field position.

After Prater's 43-yarder tied it with 11 minutes left, the Broncos again were burned by a squibbed kickoff and Jackson's 8-yard touchdown run made it 30-23 with 8:54 left.

"I've got to have more touchbacks and learn to drive the ball more when it's cold out," Prater said.

The Broncos dominated the first half, outgaining Buffalo 268 yards to 95 -- including an edge of 213 to minus-2 in the first quarter -- but they led just 13-10 at halftime after settling for two chip-shot field goals by Prater and a big strategic blunder by coach Mike Shanahan.

Rather than sending in the punt team on fourth down at the Buffalo 36, Shanahan sent in Prater, who had converted all five of his tries from 50-plus but was well short on a 54-yarder.

"Obviously, it didn't turn out to be the right decision," said Shanahan, "and we were also stopping them at that point."

Not from that point on, though, as the Bills scored on their next five possessions.

"We had them on their heels and we gave them a little life," cornerback Champ Bailey said after his first game in two months. "They got some points before the half and that's where it just went bad on us."

The Bills capitalized on Prater's miss by going 56 yards for Marshawn Lynch's 2-yard TD run with 11 seconds left in the half.

"It pumped us," Buffalo safety George Wilson said. "It kept us right where we wanted to be, one score away. We wanted to finish that half strong after getting off to a slow start. The missed field goal led to us getting a touchdown off a short field and it allowed us to regroup at the half and come out and finish the game strong."

"We might not be a playoff team," Jackson said, "but we played like one today."

The Broncos might not be one either.

Notes

  • The only game in Denver colder than Sunday's 17-degree reading at kickoff was a game against San Diego on Dec. 10, 1972, when it was 9 degrees.
  • The Bills went 4-0 against the AFC West.
  • Bailey picked up his second career sack, and first since his rookie year in 1999.
  • Lynch injured a shoulder in the second half.
Copyright 2015 by STATS LLC and The Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and The Associated Press is strictly prohibited.
 
CBSSports Facebook Google Plus
COMMENTS
Conversation powered by Livefyre
Bills running back Fred Jackson finishes with 113 total yards, including an 8-yard TD run in the fourth.
 
Bills running back Fred Jackson finishes with 113 total yards, including an 8-yard TD run in the fourth. (AP)
 

 

Related Video

June 18, 2015
2015 Outlook: Matt Cassel (1:15)
June 11, 2015
2015 Outlook: Charles Clay
(1:23)
June 9, 2015
2015 Outlook: Robert Woods
(0:56)
June 5, 2015
2015 Outlook: Percy Harvin
(1:21)
Sun. Dec. 21Final
Buffalo
(7-8)
01061430
Denver
(8-7)
1037323
BUF - Pass: T. Edwards (17-25, 193), Rec: J. Reed (9-79)
DEN - Pass: J. Cutler (25-45, 359), Rec: B. Marshall (10-129)
Scoring Summary
1ST QUARTER
TDJay Cutler, 2 Yd run (Matt Prater kick is good), 10:32. Drive: 8 plays, 80 yards in 4:28.
FGMatt Prater 23 Yd, 4:57. Drive: 8 plays, 89 yards in 3:45.
2ND QUARTER
FGMatt Prater 30 Yd, 13:12. Drive: 12 plays, 53 yards in 5:43.
FGRian Lindell 37 Yd, 7:43. Drive: 11 plays, 56 yards in 5:29.
TDMarshawn Lynch, 2 Yd run (Rian Lindell kick is good), 0:15. Drive: 9 plays, 56 yards in 1:40.
3RD QUARTER
FGRian Lindell 49 Yd, 9:52. Drive: 9 plays, 26 yards in 5:08.
FGRian Lindell 28 Yd, 4:58. Drive: 7 plays, 48 yards in 4:00.
TDJay Cutler, 6 Yd run (Matt Prater kick is good), 0:38. Drive: 9 plays, 84 yards in 4:20.
4TH QUARTER
TDSteve Johnson, 3 Yd pass from Trent Edwards (Rian Lindell kick is good), 12:47. Drive: 5 plays, 72 yards in 2:51.
FGMatt Prater 43 Yd, 11:03. Drive: 6 plays, 49 yards in 1:44.
TDFred Jackson, 8 Yd run (Rian Lindell kick is good), 8:54. Drive: 4 plays, 45 yards in 2:09.
Players of the Game
New York

B. Marshall
Rec 10
Yds 129
Avg 12.9
TD 0

T. Edwards
Att 25
Comp 17
Yds 193
TD 1
 
Buffalo
PassingCP/ATYDSTDINT
T. Edwards17/2519310
RushingATTYDSTDLG
F. Jackson1043110
M. Lynch113419
T. Edwards210011
X. Omon2001
R. Parrish1000
ReceivingRECYDSTDLG
J. Reed979016
F. Jackson370065
L. Evans219013
R. Parrish114014
R. Royal1808
S. Johnson1313
Denver
PassingCP/ATYDSTDINT
J. Cutler25/4535901
RushingATTYDSTDLG
E. Royal171071
P. Pope644020
J. Cutler830210
T. Bell520012
S. Young71608
ReceivingRECYDSTDLG
B. Marshall10129024
E. Royal557015
T. Scheffler256036
D. Graham352024
B. Stokley332013
D. Jackson130030
T. Bell1303
Complete Player Stats
Other Games
GB 17 Final
CHI 20
SD 41 Final
TB 24
NYJ 3 Final
SEA 13
HOU 16 Final
OAK 27
PHI 3 Final
WAS 10
PIT 14 Final
TEN 31
SF 17 Final
STL 16
CAR 28 Final
NYG 34
ARI 7 Final
NE 47
ATL 24 Final
MIN 17
MIA 38 Final
KC 31
NO 42 Final
DET 7
CIN 14 Final
CLE 0
BAL 33 Final
DAL 24
IND 31 Final
JAC 24