The Broncos’ fate rested on the foot of Brandon McManus, but the kicker missed his second field goal of the day—the first from 62 yards out and the potential game-winner from 51—as Denver fell by two points.
The Broncos lost 19-17 on Sunday in Demaryius Thomas’return to Mile High Stadium. His Texans led the game for 49 minutes but allowed Denver a glimmer of hope in the final seconds. The Broncos fall to 3-6 this season, all but dooming their potential to end a two-season playoff drought.
Case Keenum’s offense took over at its own 14 with 3-and-a-half minutes on the clock. The team moved down the field methodically, converting fourth downs at the Denver 40 with just under two minutes on the clock and at the Houston 37 with 50 seconds left. McManus set up at the 33 with three seconds remaining but missed wide right.
Thomas got off to a hot start, with nearly 50 receiving yards on the Texans’ first drive of the game. Houston flew down the field, taking a 7-0 lead on a short touchdown to tight end Jordan Thomas, four minutes into the game.
After trading three-and-outs, the Broncos had a chance to match Houston when Case Keenum hit Courtland Sutton in the end zone from 40 yards out but had the ball knocked out of his hands late by Shareece Wright. Denver managed a 33-yard field goal to pull within four.
The Texans made their way into the red zone on the next series and opted to go for it on 4th-and-1. Rookie linebacker Bradley Chubb stuffed Alfred Blue on a run up the middle, but two plays later, Devontae Booker fumbled, setting up a 16-yard DeAndre Hopkins touchdown.
The stuff was just one impact play of many for Chubb, who posted six tackles, three of them for a loss, with a sack and a quarterback hit.
Denver answered halfway through the second quarter. Keenum completed all three of his pass attempts on the drive, including a 44-yarder to tight end Matt LaCosse. Booker capped the drive with a 14-yard touchdown, making the score 13-10 with five minutes left in the half.
As the clock wound down, McManus missed his first field goal of the game, setting Houston up on the Denver side of the 50 with 18 seconds left. Vance Joseph called a timeout just before Ka’imi Fairbairn’s first try from 46, which he missed, but the kicker made the second to take a six-point lead into halftime.
The second half was a defensive struggle, with six of nine possessions ending in punts. The Broncos took their only lead of the game halfway through the third quarter on a 12-yard touchdown pass to Heuerman. But the Texans made a field goal seven minutes later to pull back ahead 19-17.
Both teams punted twice, before the Broncos took over for the last drive of the game, with the potential to pull out their fourth win of the season.
Keenum finished the day with 26 completions on 42 attempts for 290 yards and a touchdown. Courtland Sutton caught three of the passes for 57 yards and Sanders caught six for 47.
Phil Lindsay led the way on the ground with 60 yards on 17 carries, and also caught two passes for 24 yards.
Outside of Chubb, Derek Wolfe, DeMarcus Walker, and Von Miller sacked DeShaun Watson. Miller also had two tackles for losses.
Watson completed 17 of 24 passes for 213 yards and two touchdowns. Ten of the completions went to Hopkins who had 105 yards and a touchdown.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The Broncos spent much of the game in heavy sets with multiple tight ends on the field, and Jeff Heuerman was a big reason it worked. The third-year tight end set career highs in receptions (10) and yards (83) on just 11 targets. He also caught his second touchdown of the season and fourth of his career.
PLAY OF THE GAME
As the Broncos drove down the field, trying to put kicker Brandon McManus in field goal range with a chance to win the game, Denver faced a 4th-and-8 near midfield with under a minute on the clock. Emmanuel Sanders ran a post slant route and Case Keenum whipped the ball into his gut through double-coverage. The play kept Denver's hopes alive on fourth down for the second time in the series.
QUOTE OF THE GAME
"It was gut-wrenching for our guys. I want to win for them." - Head coach Vance Joseph
BY THE NUMBERS
0 – Interceptions thrown by Case Keenum, his first turnover-free game in Denver
98 – Rushing yards allowed by the Broncos, their third straight week holding their opponent under 100 after allowing back-to-back 200-yard rushers.
127 – Receiving yards from the Broncos’ tight ends
The Broncos have next week off before heading to Los Angeles to take on the Chargers on Nov. 18.