It was almost a brilliant comeback.
Todd Davis almost tackled Jeremy Hill before he sprinted for an 85-yard touchdown.
Julius Thomas almost got the better end of a tussle for the ball with Reggie Nelson.
Connor Barth almost made a 49-yarder.
Demaryius Thomas almost didn't get the most ticky tack penalty call ever.
Almost (though given Bill Vinovich's history, that was probably a guarantee flag).
Rahim Moore and Aqib Talib almost had interceptions late in the game that could have prevented a whole host of problems.
And the Offensive Line almost got away with a mid-season reshuffle.
But you know where almost counts - and it is most definitely not in a football game.
#Broncos @CjAndersonRB9 pretty much nailed it. Terrible. pic.twitter.com/4OEGprMECo— Laurie Volkmann (@docllv) December 23, 2014
C.J. Anderson summed up the game of "almosts" in the best way anyone could, saying the same response after five different questions (including one about the bogus face mask call):
"We just played terrible. ...We played terrible. ...We just played terrible tonight," said the running back who had just 37 yards on the ground in the first half but ended the night with 138 total yards. "We've got to get better, look at the tape and get ready for next week."
Boy is there going to be a lot to cover on that tape.
And it's hard to know where to start. Offense played one good quarter. Special teams played no good quarters except for Omar Bolden's fabulous 77-yard runback to start the second half. And the run defense forgot to tackle the guy actually running with the ball.
"We just have to be more consistent for four quarters," said the man on whose shoulders most of this loss will rest.
Though Peyton Manning is not solely responsible for a loss that represented a complete lapse in all phases of the ball, as the quarterback who threw four picks, he knows where to put a lot of the blame.
"You can't play well the end of the second quarter and the beginning of the third quarter - not play well in the first and not play well in the fourth," said Manning, who was 28/44 for 311 yards and 2 TDs in addition to the 4 INTs. "Against good football teams, you have to be more consistent, and I have to play better as well."
That said, I'm not worried that Manning doesn't still have it in him to lead this team to the Super Bowl.
Peyton Manning: still good. #Broncos https://t.co/pVOLFhCzTR— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) December 23, 2014
I don't buy the "old" argument because he's been old for a while.
And Manning hasn't had the best of circumstances to work with as the offensive line has been up and down...and was definitely down last night.
Plus several receivers have been hobbled at one point or another, limiting his options at times.
But none of those excuse bad throws and bad decisions. Of which Manning had four really bad ones last night.
"Obviously, in the fourth quarter, I made some bad throws and they really put us in a bind," Manning said after the game.
But Manning also engineered a third-quarter comeback with three back-to-back scores that erased the Broncos' 13-point deficit and put them in the driver's seat at 28-27.
#Broncos convert, @DemaryiusT a beast. Broncos 28, #Bengals 27 http://t.co/e3LmnkRIdh pic.twitter.com/HuM763td71— Tim Lynch (@TimLynch1978) December 23, 2014
But then missed tackles all over the place (can we please tackle a tight end or running back?), penalties and three interceptions in the fourth prevented a miraculous comeback by the man who still leads the NFL in fourth-quarter comebacks at 41, including this season's 39-36 win over Miami.
So our beloved Sheriff is in a slump. One he absolutely has to get out of if the Broncos are going to make this postseason anything special. Twelve interceptions in the last eight games - compared to three in the first seven - is not an insignificant stat, just a very unfortunate and sobering one.
But still the stat that matters is the season record, and despite last night's defeat, the Broncos still own the AFC West - and with a win next week, Broncos will still seal up a more-than-ever-needed first-round bye.
But that's no gimme as the Oakland Raiders are looking like an NFL team once again and will not go down without a fight.
And Broncos better show some fight if they want to do anything in the postseason.
As usual, there were some flashes of Broncos brilliance last night. Aqib Talib's pick six in the first quarter should have set the tone for the game. Von Miller's fumble recovery was just sheer will to get that ball. And Emmanuel Sanders' two touchdowns were quintessential He-manuel.
It's the Emmanuel Sanders show, #Broncos down 27-21 after his TD reception #Bengals http://t.co/DlSB5evuR4 pic.twitter.com/BifuJCb8d6— Tim Lynch (@TimLynch1978) December 23, 2014
Can the Broncos bounce back?
"Well, we have to. We have no choice," Manning correctly assessed. "We have to find a way to learn from this and correct the mistakes. That's all you can do. It's disappointing. We had an opportunity to win this game tonight. We would have preferred that."
So would we.
But here's the good news. 12-4 has historically been a much better outcome (think 1997-98) than 13-3 (better not to think back on either of those), and sometimes, bad games - even at the end of the season - are good.
Knowing our offensive line is still a weak link, knowing our linebacker situation is in critical condition, knowing our passing game can be good but probably shouldn't be used on 3rd and 1 near our end zone against a defense that's been beating us all night...This information should sharpen the focus next week.
Correction - This information better sharpen the focus next week.
"So we have to go back to the drawing board and work on fundamentals. ... Learn the personnel and just go from there," said DeMarcus Ware, who only contributed three tackles in the defensive effort. "At the end of the day, we've got to be able to close out better. There are no excuses. So we have to play better next week."
The 3-12 Raiders versus the 11-4 Broncos at Mile High. To the uninitiated, the outcome would seem sure. But it's the Raiders, and we better know better.
Chris Harris Jr. seems to.
"It's a rivalry game versus the Raiders. We want to finish off strong. We know that they're going to try to come in and spoil our run right now - try to take us from getting a first-round bye," said the cornerback who didn't have his usual stellar performance, adding just three tackles and one pass defensed on the night. "We know we still have a chance to get that, so we know that this game is huge."
The Raiders will be playing for nothing but pride, but that's a lot ... and the Broncos need to be playing for the same.
Because almost doesn't count from here on out.