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Horse Tracks: Denver Broncos play to lose against Steelers

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Well that was frustrating, wasn't it? For the second straight week the Denver Broncos squandered a decent halftime lead in the second half. Once in control of their fate and the AFC, the Broncos now find themselves fighting to win the division and are in danger of missing the playoffs.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Two winnable games in two weeks. Two halftime leads. Two epic collapses that now have the Broncos season in jeopardy. Last week, I went after Demaryius Thomas and the offense for dropped balls. This week, I blame the coaching.

In the first half Denver exploited a soft Steelers secondary with deep passes that stretched the field. At halftime, the Broncos went into the locker room with the lead and emerged a different team. The team that took the field in the second half was suddenly timid, afraid to throw down the field. It looked like they were trying to run out the clock from the git-go. When you play not to lose, you almost always do and that's exactly what happened.

Sure, there was also some sloppy play. Vernon Davis had another huge drop that killed what could have been a game saving drive. Poor tackling on defense allowed the Steelers to convert key third downs. The dominant Broncos defense went dormant. Frankly, again, there's plenty of blame to go around.

So what now? If the Broncos want to go to the playoffs, they need to win one of their next two. If they want to win the AFC West, they have to win out. If they don't, there's a very real chance that the Broncos will be at home watching on the couch like the rest of us.

HORSE TRACKS

Let's relive Sunday's collapse, shall we? Here are the recaps.

Another second-half fade has Broncos searching for answers | Denver Broncos

Steelers 34, Broncos 27: Three Keys, Unlocked | Denver Broncos

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos December 20, 2015 | Sports Illustrated

Never say die, Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Denver Broncos 34-27 in Week 15 - Behind the Steel Curtain

Brock Osweiler, Broncos collapse in second half in loss at Pittsburgh - The Denver Post

Steelers overcome late blunder, beat Broncos 34-27 | ProFootballTalk

Big Ben, Antonio Brown unstoppable in Steelers' win - NFL.com

Brock's shoulder bruise is not to be blamed for Sunday's outcome. Brock Talk: Injury no factor, offense just lost its rhythm | Denver Broncos

Sunday morning, Peyton Manning found himself the subject of an NFL Network report that stated he wouldn't accept a role as a backup to Osweiler. He and the Broncos vehemently denied the report.

John Elway: Peyton Manning hasn't refused backup role with Broncos | USA TODAY

Broncos dispute report of Peyton Manning not wanting to be a backup - CBSSports.com

Manning changes course, calls NFLN report "insulting" (and more) | ProFootballTalk

It's just awful that Emmanual Sanders' spectacular performance against his old team ended the way it did. Emmanuel Sanders' career night bittersweet | Denver Broncos

Former Broncos running back Clinton Portis is out of money. Incredible. Former Broncos RB Clinton Portis Files For Bankruptcy " CBS Denver

The Broncos are struggling and the Chiefs are surging. Chiefs cash in on Ravens' errors in eighth straight win - NFL.com

The Chargers beat up Miami in an emotionally meaningful game. Chargers win, in what may be their last game in San Diego | ProFootballTalk

Green Bay did what the Broncos could not do last week. Green Bay stays atop NFC North with win over Oakland - NFL.com

After sustaining debilitating injuries last week, the Bengals clinched the playoffs with their win and Denver's loss. Bengals clinch playoff berth with 24-14 win over 49ers | ProFootballTalk

New England beat Tennessee despite a trio of injuries. Danny Amendola, Dont'a Hightower and Patrick Chung injured in New England Patriots' win over Tennessee Titans | ESPN

With the Patriots win, they clinch a bye in the playoffs. Patriots ride new backfield trio to victory over Titans - NFL.com

The Houston Texans beat the Colts and are now the AFC South leader. Weeden leads Texans to division lead in win over Colts - NFL.com

The Panthers remained perfect on Sunday, but the real story is about what happened between Giants WR Odell Beckham, Jr. and Panthers DB Josh Norman.

Odell Beckham, Josh Norman mix it up in Panthers' win - NFL.com

Josh Norman of Carolina Panthers rips Odell Beckham Jr., says New York Giants receiver 'shouldn't be on the field' | ESPN

Panthers survive furious comeback, stay undefeated - NFL.com

Arizona remains a strong force in the NFC. Cardinals blow out Eagles, clinch NFC West crown - NFL.com

The Seattle Seahawks have overcome their early-season struggles and have clinched the playoffs. Seahawks clinch playoff spot with win over Browns - NFL.com

The Minnesota Vikings whooped up on Jay Cutler, Foxy, and the Bears. Adrian Peterson's ankle ain't right. Adrian Peterson "definitely" has an ankle sprain," not sure if he’ll have MRI | ProFootballTalk

Here's the playoff picture. Here's hoping the Broncos can stop the free-fall in the seeding with a win this week against Cincinnati. NFL playoff picture: Steelers overtake Jets for No. 6 AFC seed; Packers, Seahawks clinch NFC berths | ESPN