This season has been too difficult, too erratic for Broncos fans to relax now. What never really seemed like a comfortable three-game lead with three games to go suddenly has the feel of all-or-nothing next Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
After the game — what there was of it — and after he had taken a shower to wash off the grunge — there was much of it — Jay Cutler came into the interview room, and as he tried to step up to the microphones, his foot slammed into the side of the podium, and only with a quick reaction with an outstretched hand did he break his fall and quite possibly keep from breaking his neck. That would have been it for the Broncos' season.
"I've never spent this long watching football in my life. And it's killing me," the injured Bailey said Sunday, when he could do nothing to prevent Carolina's 30-10 beatdown of his teammates.
DeAngelo Williams took one look at the Broncos' defense and knew he and his Smash-and-Dash running mate, Jonathan Stewart, were not going to gain 301 yards this week.
Six days after the Panthers rushed for a franchise-record 299 yards in a "Monday Night Football" victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, their offense offered more of a two-pronged approach against Denver in a 30-10 victory Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.
Despite expressions of confidence from Denver players and coaches about the state of the team's running attack leading up to Sunday's game at Carolina, few were fooled.
The Broncos suffered one significant injury in their 30-10 loss to Carolina, a broken bone in the left hand of right guard Chris Kuper.
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With a chance to seal their playoff fate Sunday, the Broncos got a glimpse of the kind of team they'll see if they do push their way into January. But having entered the day three games up in the AFC West with three to play, they left North Carolina with little more than disappointment in the cargo hold.
Two first-quarter drives that produced 10 points and 115 yards - and a 10-10 tie - were the best the Broncos would do for the rest of a 30-10 loss to the Panthers on Sunday.
The Broncos came to town intent on slowing down the most prolific running back tandem in the NFL in the Panthers' DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. They did that for the most part, save for a 56-yard Williams' scoring run.
The Broncos got back one of their captains, D.J. Williams after a five-game absence because of a sprained knee. Williams shuttled in on base downs but did not play in nickel pass coverage, with Jamie Winborn and Wesley Woodyard handling those responsibilities.
Pick the "Houston, we have a problem" moment. Or in this case, I guess, the "Denver, something's wrong" moment, the point where realization met expectation. The Broncos might not yet get there.
The Broncos all but had the title hats and shirts rocking in the locker room -- before they even hit the field to face the Panthers. And you couldn't blame them. Kansas City had a 21-3 lead in the third quarter and it led 21-10 at the two-minute warning. However, two San Diego touchdowns in the final 79 seconds delayed the party.