The Denver Broncos were a missed field goal away from going into their bye week feeling good. Not that 4-5 feels good, but a win in the NFL, the players and coaches say, is hard to get. It has been especially hard for Denver the past seven weeks.
It'll be two more weeks before the Broncos get another shot at it. Players and coaches have an off week to marinate in a promising season gone south, and a third straight year without a playoff appearance following a Super Bowl 50 victory.
A losing record weighs heavy on the players.
"No, I'm not OK," Chris Harris Jr. said Monday. "I'm about winning, so I'm not OK with it at all."
The line between a winning record and an empty season has been a fine line. Denver was 2-0, lost at Baltimore (which is not necessarily a tragic thing) but had a chance to go to 3-1 against AFC West Division rival Kansas City on Oct. 1.
Denver led that game by 10 entering the fourth quarter but couldn't stop Patrick Mahomes, who engineered two touchdown drives. Despite that, the Broncos were in prime position to win until quarterback Case Keenum overthrew a wide-open Demaryius Thomas near the goal line in the waning seconds.
Then came Sunday. Facing Thomas, just traded to Houston, the Broncos had a chance to win it. They drove to the Houston 32 with 23 seconds left and one timeout in their pocket. Instead of trying to gain more yards to make it a closer field goal attempt, head coach Vance Joseph opted to run it to the middle of the field and a 51-yard attempt with 3 seconds left.
The sure-footed Brandon McManus, who missed a 62-yarder at the end of the half, was wide left.
Two plays, two empty results are all that separate Denver from 5-4 instead of 3-6.
Joseph said he didn't want to risk Keenum getting sacked and losing yards or fumbling.
"A penalty or sack, sack-fumble, something--we've got the yards we need to win the football game, so why even chance going backwards? Why chance a tipped ball? Let's go win the game," Joseph said.
It was sound in theory but poor in execution, and grumblings about Joseph's job security keep getting louder. He is 8-17 since taking over in 2017 and Denver is headed for its first back-to-back losing seasons in more than 40 years.
"That's not my concern right now--my future," he said. "It's about the players and the coaches and winning football games."
There has not been a lot of winning in Denver lately, but the players aren't ready to give up on the season.
"No one has the thought of throwing in the towel, thinking about next year or thinking about offseason," guard Connor McGovern said. "Everybody wants to win as many games as possible, and we're going to keep working hard, keep showing up to practice and like Vance says, 'It's hard-pressed to find anybody that practices harder than we do."
BIG LOSS: Center Matt Paradis' snap streak ended Sunday, and it will be a while before he starts a new one. Joseph said the reliable offensive lineman is out for the year after breaking his left leg and tearing ligaments against the Texans.
"He's going to IR," Joseph said. "His surgery is going to be scheduled probably end of the week or next week once the swelling goes down. Tough loss for us."
Joseph said McGovern will move to center and either Eli Wilkinson or Billy Turner will slide in at guard.
Paradis had played in 3,850 consecutive snaps to start his career before Sunday. He played through injury and was the stalwart on a line that dealt with consistency and injury for the past four seasons.
He's the iron man, none of us ever thought that something like this would happen to Matt," McGovern said. "You've just got to try to replace him as best you can. I know I'm not Matt Paradis, but I'm going to do my best to fill the gap that is left."
--C Matt Paradis will miss the rest of the season with a broken left leg and torn ligaments suffered late in the first half Sunday. Paradis had played 3,850 consecutive snaps to start his career entering the game against Houston. "His surgery is going to be scheduled probably end of the week or next week once the swelling goes down. Tough loss for us," head coach Vance Joseph said.
--WR Courtland Sutton made his first NFL start on Sunday and finished with three receptions for 57 yards. Sutton, a rookie, moved into the starting lineup with the trade of Demaryius Thomas to Houston.
--G Connor McGovern will likely move to center to replace Matt Paradis. McGovern took over the position when Paradis was injured late in the first half on Sunday.
--S S'ua Cravens had three tackles -- two solo -- in his season debut Sunday. Cravens missed the first eight weeks with a knee injury.
--RB Phillip Lindsay had 60 yards rushing on Sunday and now has 591 on the season, which leads all rookie running backs. His total rushing yards ranks 10th in franchise history with seven games remaining.