In what has become all too familiar for the Denver Broncos this season, they lost their 12th game in the season finale 33-28 to the San Diego Chargers at Invesco Field, but they may have won in the process.
By losing, the Broncos secured the No. 2 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft. Had they won, they could have gotten the No. 6 pick.
But of course, the players weren’t thinking of that as they did their best to erase a 19-point Chargers lead, before coming up short, failing on two Hail Mary passes at the end of the game.
“I hated that the game ended like that, but it showed the character of this team to fight back from what the score was and what the situation was in the first half, and get ourselves back in there and have a chance with two deep balls at the end of the game to go ahead,” interim head coach Eric Studesville said.
The game was almost a carbon copy of the Broncos’ first game with San Diego, which the Chargers won 35-14.
The Broncos trailed 33-14 in the fourth quarter in this game before scoring two touchdowns late and recovering an onside kick with 23 seconds remaining to have a chance at a win.
Like that first matchup, the Broncos scored first as rookie quarterback Tim Tebow hit a wide-open Brandon Lloyd for a touchdown.
The Chargers would respond, however, scoring 26 consecutive points, including four field goals from Nate Kaeding and two rushing touchdowns from rookie running back Ryan Mathews.
Mathews was the star of the game for the Chargers, rushing for a career-high 120 yards on 26 carries and three touchdowns.
The Broncos got a big kickoff return from rookie Cassius Vaughn who returned it 97 ards to give them some hope and Tebow ran for another touchdown, but didn’t have enough time to complete the comeback.
“I would like to say I expect (us to fight to the end), because I expect that out of myself. I wouldn’t expect for anyone to quit at any point in the game,” wide receiver Brandon Lloyd said.
Lloyd was a bright spot for the Broncos all season and was voted to his first Pro Bowl. He finished the season as the NFL’s leader in receiving yards with 1,448.
Tebow experienced some growing pains in his third NFL start, completing just 16-of-36 passes for 205 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, but did rush 13 times for a team-high 94 yards.
“When they were going to play soft in coverage and looking at receivers and their defensive line was going to rush hard up field, (running) was one of our best answers,” Tebow said. “I was going to do whatever I needed or had to do to try to help get us back in the game and give us a chance at the end. Unfortunately it was not enough.”
Now the Broncos head into an offseason filled with question marks as they completed their worst season since the schedule was expanded to 16 games.
Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway is expected to be hired in an upper management position this week and the team will begin a search for their next head coach and possibly a new general manager if Brian Xanders is not retained.
Studesville was told earlier in the week that he will be interviewed for the head coaching position, but is not expected to get the job, likely meaning the entire coaching staff will be replaced.
While Studesville hopes to get the job, he is proud of the work he and the players did during his four weeks on the job.
“I have given everything that I possibly have to the last four weeks. Every part of me, every ounce of effort has been put into the past four weeks and I am proud of that,” Studesville said. “We are going to have all of those discussions as we go forward. I do not regret anything that has been done. I am very proud of the effort that I have given and that this team and this coaching staff has given.”