NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Broncos’ playoff hopes are a bit slimmer after a 13-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. And while not mathematically eliminated, their five-year reign atop the AFC West is nearly over.
Starting quarterback Trevor Siemian returned to the lineup after he missed the win over the Jaguars with a foot injury. It was a game that featured a scuffle between players, a fake punt and two key turnovers that doomed the Broncos.
The Broncos opened the game unable to convert on third-and-1, forcing them to punt after a three-and-out, which has been a staple of their season.
The Titans made them pay as quarterback Marcus Mariota helped lead the team on a 70-yard drive capped by a DeMarco Murray touchdown to give the Titans a 7-0 lead.
On his first carry for the Broncos, running back Justin Forsett fumbled and the Titans recovered. That turnover set up a 53-yard field goal by Ryan Succop to make it 10-0.
The game got physical in the second quarter after Harry Douglas took a cheap shot on the Broncos’ Chris Harris Jr. by going low with his helmet aimed at the cornerback’s knee.
On the next play, Aqib Talib and Douglas got into a brawl and several players joined in the melee. Talib was penalized for a personal foul but was not ejected.
Before halftime, the Titans extended the lead with a 41-yard field goal by Succop to make it 13-0. It was the first time the Broncos were shut out in the first half since Week 10 last season against the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Broncos defense began to tighten against Mariota and Murray in the second half and kept them in the game.
The Broncos tried to give the offense some life by successfully completing a fake punt late in the third quarter. Punter Riley Dixon threw to Cody Latimer on fourth down for 16 yards and the first down.
But the Broncos were unable to capitalize on it after getting in the red zone for the first time. Facing fourth-and-goal from the Titans 4 early in the fourth quarter, the Broncos went for it instead of kicking a field goal, but Siemian’s pass was short and fell incomplete.
The Broncos finally scored when Siemian threw to Emmanuel Sanders for 3 yards to make it 13-7 with 9:58 to play.
After forcing a three-and-out, the Broncos got great field position and drove 39 yards before stalling and having to settle for a 34-yard field goal by Brandon McManus to make it 13-10 with 4:33 to play.
The Broncos got the ball back with 2:26 left at their 2-yard line. After getting out to the 29, Siemian found tight end A.J. Derby at the 41. But Derby fumbled and the Titans recovered to seal the win.
The loss keeps the Broncos in third place in the AFC West at 8-5, two games behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders with three games to play.
They’re still in the hunt for a wild-card berth, but they have three tough games remaining: At home next week against the New England Patriots (10-2), at Kansas City on Christmas night and at home against the Raiders on New Year’s Day.