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Instant reactions: Broncos fumble away playoff hopes against Titans

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The Denver Broncos needed a win against the Tennessee Titans to keep their playoff hopes alive, but fumbled away that dream with a 13-10 loss on Sunday.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

In order to keep pace in the AFC's heated playoff race, the Denver Broncos needed to take care of business on the road against the Tennessee Titans. That didn't happen. The Broncos lost to the Titans by a score of 13-10, which gave them their fifth loss of the season.

The team has three hard match-ups against New England, Kansas City and Oakland to round out the rest of their regular season schedule. They will have to win at least two of them to have a shot at being one of the two wild card teams represented in the AFC Playoffs.  Highly unlikely that such a feat happens, especially given their struggles today against Tennessee.  Here is a recap of today's game.

First Half Summary

After winning the coin toss, the Titans deferred which sent the Broncos' offense out on the field first.  All season long, the Broncos' have struggled on opening drives.  They are the league leader's in three-and-out's and one of the worst third down offenses in the entire NFL. Today's game provided an opportunity to buck that trend, but  like clockwork, the Broncos' offense failed to launch with their first drive of the game.

Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison started off the game like he usually does, calling an unacceptable three straight passing plays that resulted in only one catch and a prompt three-and-out for the Broncos' offense.

Shortly after on their first possession of the game, the Titan's offense, led by Marcus Mariota and DeMarco Murray were able to quickly plow through the Broncos' horrific run defense and snag a touchdown.

On the ensuing possession, recently acquired running back Justin Forsett coughed up the ball in their own territory, giving the Titans tremendous field position and their first forced fumble and fumble recovery of the 2016 season.  Quite simply, you couldn't have imagined a worse start for today's game than what actually transpired.

Needing a drastic change in momentum, Denver's defense was able to stop the Titans from scoring another touchdown, but Tennessee was still able to put three points up on the board courtesy of a 53 yard field goal from Ryan Succop.

As the first quarter came to the close, the Broncos' offense was pinned back deep in their own territory and were able to register one first down. Alas, they were unable to convert another due to yet another failure in short yardage situations and forced to punt once more. For the first quarter, the Broncos' had only 12 plays, while the Titans had 14 plays on the Broncos' side of the field.

The Titans began the second quarter of play with aspirations of taking the ball in for another score, but a penalty on tight end Delanie Walker, followed by Shane Ray's sixth sack of the season took Tennessee out of field goal range. Kayvon Webster was called for an illegal block in the back on the punt, which pinned Denver deep in their own territory to start their next drive.

Trevor Siemian was able to hit Forsett on a screen play that went for a first down, followed up by back to back passes to Emmanuel Sanders that gave the Broncos' their biggest offensive production of the game.  Unfortunately, the Broncos' drive came to a screeching halt shortly after, with Denver unable to convert on third-and-eight where Siemian was under duress and threw an errant pass due to a classic Dick LeBeau linebacker blitz. With that failed third down attempt, the Broncos' had failed to convert fifteen consecutive third downs. That lack of execution is simply unacceptable.

The Titans started the drive deep in their own territory, thanks to Riley Dixon who was able to pin them down at their own three yard line. Despite being placed in a precarious position, the Titans were able to mount a behemoth of a drive that lasted 19 plays and resulted in three more points, putting them up 13-0 with just 90 seconds to go before halftime, but it was a drive filled with a lot of drama.

The biggest story of the drive was Harry Douglas taking a cheap shot at Chris Harris Jr., which ended up in Aqib Talib fighting Douglas on the sidelines on the very next play. Talib wasn't ejected, but was assessed a personal foul penalty. That type of play by Douglas is completely unacceptable and has no place in the league. A suspension for targeting should be in order, but I doubt that happens.  At the very least, he should expect a heavy fine from the league for his low-class maneuver.

Denver had the opportunity to put points on the board before half time, but were unable to get the field goal unit onto the field as time expired. The largest concern outside of Denver's inability to move the ball on offense was how the Titans physically dominated the Broncos in the trenched and completely owned the pace of the game. Tennessee had the ball for 20:19 of the first half, while Denver only had the ball for 8:14.

Second Half Summary

The Titans got the ball to start the second half. After several rushing first downs that got them close to Denver territory, the Broncos' defense held their ground once again and stopped the Titans on third down.  Had it not been for the staunch play of the defense throughout the course of the game, the score could have been a lot worse than it was.

Denver's offense trotted back onto the field, looking to improve upon a woeful first half performance.  After a few first downs, the team looked poised to finally put up their first points of the game, but those hopes ended when the Broncos failed to convert yet another third down, bringing them to 0-6 on the day in that regard and were forced to punt once more.

On their next possession, the Titans were force a three-and-out and the Broncos' offense was able to get the ball back again.  As I've written a thousand times, the Broncos' offense couldn't get anything going.  Another third down, another failed conversion, but Head Coach Gary Kubiak rolled the dice and ran a fake punt and Dixon connected with Cody Latimer on a perfectly thrown pass that extended the Broncos' drive.

Denver continued to march deeper into Tennessee's territory and with the game on the line, Siemian was able to connect with Demaryius Thomas to convert the teams' first third down attempt in eleven quarters of play.  With the ball within five yards of pay dirt, the Broncos took four downs to attempt to get on the board, but the fourth down attempt sailed over Sanders' head in the end zone, with the Broncos' streak of not being shut out (dating back to 1992) in jeopardy.

Worn out and wore down, the Broncos' defense did what they did best and came up big in the clutch, negating any effort the Titans attempted to get out of their field position disadvantage. Denver was able to get the ball back in Tennessee territory and have another shot at redemption.

It wasn't pretty, but after several attempts Siemian was able to connect with Sanders for a touchdown pass to bring the Broncos within six points of a tie with just a little less than ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter.

For the millionth time this season, the Broncos would have to rely on their vaunted defense to stop the Titans' offensive attack to give their team a fighting chance to win.  Von Miller had a huge defensive drive and should merit Defensive Player of the Year honors for his play to date.  The Titans had to punt, and it would be on the shoulders of the Broncos' offense to try and lead their team to victory.

Siemian had a hot hand to start the drive, connecting with a handful of receivers and Thomas often to get the Broncos in the red zone.  Bennie Fowler was the target of Siemian on two consecutive plays, but Fowler dropped a sure-fire touchdown in the end zone and a third down throw was deflected out of his reach which prompted the Broncos to settle for a Brandon McManus field goal that got Denver within three points, 13-10 with four and a half minutes left to go in the game.

Denver's defense was able to stop Mariota and the Titans' offense, and with a tick over two minutes left to go, the Broncos were pinned back at their two yard line. It would take a huge effort to get the Broncos into scoring range to effectively tie the game, but could the offense do it?

Absolutely not.  Siemian had the offense rolling, but A.J. Derby blew the Broncos' shot at potential tie or victory when he reeled in a pass and decided to fumble it thereafter, giving the Titans the game, which handed the Broncos their fifth loss of the season and potentially killed their playoff hopes.

Hart's Quick Hits

  • Trevor Siemian has got a lot of grief here all season long, but kudos to Trevor for having a quality game.  He was 35/51 for 334 yards and one touchdown.  The offense didn't score enough, but he played his heart out in today's loss to the Titans. It's uncertain if Trevor will be the Broncos' starting quarterback in 2017, but I think it's clear that he has earned the respect of his teammates and will have a role with the club through his rookie contract.
  • The Broncos only had 18 yards on 9 rushing attempts against the Titans.  When you can't run the football and abandon the running game, it's very unlikely you will ever win in the NFL. The Broncos' defense also gave up 180 yards on the ground, which is never a formula for success to win ball games.
  • The No Fly Zone kept Marcus Mariota in check all game long.  The second-year signal caller was 6/20 for only 88 yards.  Despite holding him to limited offensive production, the Broncos' weren't able to overcome to costly fumbles on offense that essentially cost them the game.
  • Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders had tremendous outings.  Thomas reeled in 10 catches for 126 yards and Sanders had 11 catches for 100 yards and a score.  They are two of the only bright spots on this entire offensive unit that has been absolutely horrific all season long.
  • I say it every week, but the Broncos need significant upgrades in their trenches.  The offensive line can't run block to save their lives and the defensive line is continuously dominated at the point of attack.  The Broncos have ten selections in the 2017 NFL Draft, with as many as six of them being in the Top 150.  They need to use three of those bare minimum at upgrading the trenches, and put their cap space they have towards a quality starter on each side of the ball in free agency.
  • Devontae Booker has hit a wall and it's clear his vision in the NFL isn't as good as it was in college.  Justin Forsett didn't provide a spark either.  The Broncos would be ignorant to not take advantage of this years' draft class and select a running back.  The offensive line is part of the problem, but the stable of backs we have is just inadequate to perform consistently on Sunday's.
  • The Broncos third down struggles continued.  The had only three successful conversions out of 11 attempts.   The Titans were a bit better, obtaining six conversions on 16 attempts.