Broncos go into bye with coach on hot seat, flickering hopes
DENVER (AP) — Moments after Brandon McManus pushed his winning attempt wide right, the Denver Broncos were calling him "our guy" and "the best kicker in the league" and "a good dude."
No finger pointing. Not at the current moment, anyway.
McManus sailed a 51-yard field goal try wide in the final seconds as the Broncos lost 19-17 to the Houston Texans on Sunday. Denver fell to 3-6 with barely flickering playoff hopes and a coach on the hot seat heading into a bye week.
"We just have to stick together," safety Justin Simmons said. "It's harder in terms of guys want to start pointing the fingers and there's always blame going around. But I think we have a great locker room of guys that always point the finger at themselves first."
Broncos coach Vance Joseph and his team keep hurtling toward another disappointing season. They went 5-11 a season ago that included a string of eight straight losses.
"I don't have a problem with how we're coaching and how we're playing," Joseph said after losing for the sixth time in seven games. "We've just got to finish games better."
The play-calling in the final minute could lead to some second-guessing. The Broncos had the ball at the Texans 37 with about 43 seconds remaining. Case Keenum completed a 5-yard pass to tight end Jeff Heuerman and instead of sprinting up to the line, the Broncos took their time, before running back Phillip Lindsay lost a yard on a run up the middle.
So instead of getting it closer, they settled for a 51-yard try with 3 seconds remaining. It sailed right as McManus hung his head in frustration after his second miss of the game. He also had a 62-yard attempt sail wide right in the first half — giving the Texans time to move into field-goal range.
"There's no pointing fingers. B-Mac is a great kicker," said rookie receiver Courtland Sutton, who wore a No. 88 Demaryius Thomas jersey after the game in a tribute to a teammate that was traded to the Texans on Tuesday. "We all know that. ... He's still a great kicker."
"He's a good dude and he's going to shake it off," Lindsay echoed.
The Broncos received a breakout game from Heuerman, who set career bests in catches (10) and yards (83) while also scoring. But there were quite a few miscues: Sutton had a TD slip through his hands, Devontae Booker fumbled and the defensive backs had a costly miscommunication when DeAndre Hopkins hauled in a 16-yard pass from Deshaun Watson in the second quarter.
"Snake bitten? No. Unlucky? No," Sutton said. "We just have to make sure we're putting ourselves in a situation where we're not trailing at the end of the game like that."
The Broncos have lost six games by an average of 7.8 points.
"It's frustrating," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "You lose and you know you're capable of beating this team. We had them. I pride myself on being able to make game-changing plays and be able to change the game."
On the touchdown play to Hopkins, the Broncos had double coverage only for him to sneak in between Simmons and Adam Jones.
"The error is so small for our team. We can't mess up like we did today and have a chance to win," Harris said. "We've got to damn near play perfect. We've got to figure out what we could do to eliminate those little mistakes that just kill us every game."
A missed opportunity — 4-5 obviously looks a lot more appealing than 3-6.
"Huge difference," said Harris, whose team plays play at the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 18. "Right there in the wild-card race and you have a chance to get back in it. Now, it's very hard. It's very hard to come back out of this."
Still, his message for his teammates over the break is simple: Clear the mind.
"Get ready to finish the year strong," Harris said. "I've got my mind right to finish strong."
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