NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The Denver Broncos already faced the NFL’s toughest stretch in their bid to reach the playoffs and defend their Super Bowl title.
Their path just got much, much tougher.
The Broncos lost 13-10 Sunday to the one team left on their schedule without 10 wins already. Instead, the Tennessee Titans finished off a big victory that kept them tied with Houston atop the AFC South.
Now the Broncos (8-5) are two back in the mighty AFC West with three games remaining – and in a crowded field for a wild-card berth.
“From the outside looking in, a lot of people are going to say it doesn’t look good,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak said. “I’ve been part of a hell of a lot worse and come out of it. We’re going to keep battling. I’m a battler. Those guys in the locker room are battlers. We fought until the end, but we didn’t play good enough to win.”
Trevor Siemian returned from a sprained left foot that kept him out of Denver’s 20-10 win at Jacksonville a week ago. Siemian threw for 334 yards and a touchdown, and the Broncos came up with two sacks. But Tennessee jumped to a 13-0 lead by running over the Broncos in the first half, making Von Miller do his damage with a team-high seven tackles but no sacks.
The Broncos are stuck in third in the AFC West behind Kansas City and Oakland, both at 10-3.
Making up that ground won’t be easy, not with what the Broncos are facing.
First, Denver hosts New England (10-2). Then there’s a visit to Kansas City, which beat Denver 30-27 in overtime on Nov. 27, on Christmas night. Then Oakland comes to Denver on Jan. 1 to wrap up the regular season, already having beaten the Broncos 30-20 on Nov. 6.
“I mean the schedule’s nasty, but we can win those games,” Denver linebacker DeMarcus Ware said. “I feel like everybody has to be on the same accord and have that mentality of do or die. That’s what we were talking about in the meeting (after the game), so that’s the mentality everybody’s taking.”
Denver also isn’t in great position for a wild card with Miami and Pittsburgh both at 8-5, though Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill injured his knee Sunday. Baltimore is 7-5 with a game Monday night at New England.
The Broncos will need more on offense despite Demaryius Thomas catching 10 passes for 126 yards and Emmanuel Sanders adding 100 yards and a touchdown catch.
Justin Forsett, picked up off waivers Monday, got the first carry of the game for Denver against Tennessee and ran for 9 yards. He was stripped by Titans safety Rashad Johnson at the end of the run, setting up the first of two field goals by Ryan Succop. A.J. Derby also fumbled, ending Denver’s final drive.
Denver needed the second completed pass by a punter in team history on fourth down to keep one drive alive.
The Broncos also couldn’t stop the Titans and DeMarco Murray from running the ball all over them in the first half. The Titans had 138 yards rushing on 26 carries. Denver did a better job against the NFL’s third-best rushing offense in the second half, holding Tennessee to 253 yards in total for the game.
It wasn’t enough after falling behind 13-0.
“We had our chances down the stretch and we didn’t make the plays, but the start sure as heck didn’t help us,” Siemian said.
Sanders said the Broncos simply have to forget and move on to New England.
“That’s all we can do,” Sanders said. “On this loss, it is what it is. We have to move on.”
Safety T.J. Ward says the Broncos have to keep charging.
“You can’t sit back and sulk and feel sorry for yourselves, man,” Ward said. “We got to pick it up and get ready for New England next weekend.”
By TERESA M. WALKER, AP Pro Football Writer
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