Bills throw Broncos for loss
Buffalo's upset puts Denver on the ropes
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 keep them from the playoffs.
The Broncos blew an early 13-0 lead and lost to the Buffalo Bills, 30-23, yesterday in the second-coldest game in Denver's history, setting up an all-or-nothing game against San Diego 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 backyard 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."
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 Marshawn Lynch score on a 2-yard run 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.
The Bills get another chance to put a crimp in a team's playoff hopes when they host New England next Sunday. The Patriots need to win and get help to advance.
The Broncos dominated the first half, but led just 13-10 at halftime after 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 Matt Prater, who had converted all five of his tries from 50-plus but was well short on a 54-yarder.
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 and scored on their next four possessions.