Denver lost 48-20 at San Diego on Sunday. The Broncos started the season 7-2 but are already eliminated from the division -- the Chargers clinched the title by beating them -- and are behind Cincinnati and Jacksonville for a wild-card berth. The New York Jets and Kansas City are tied with Denver, one game behind the Bengals and Jaguars.
The Broncos hadn't lost four in a row since starting the 1999 season 0-4. They were shocked at the losing streak but trying to remain optimistic.
"The season's not over," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "Even though there's a big disappointment today, we have a lot of character on our football team and we'll keep on fighting."
Denver's frustration was high after losing to San Diego. The offense struggled for most of the game, aside from a 17-point outburst in the third quarter, and the defense allowed 28 points in the first half. The Broncos have had many problems during the losing streak, so there's not one issue that's easy to pick out.
"We've got too much talent," cornerback Darrent Williams said. "Every team in the NFL has talent, but we have exceptional players. We shouldn't be in this situation. We're deep in the hole. We're way in that hole now. It's going to be hard and we have to keep fighting."
The Broncos fell behind 28-3 by halftime. San Diego had 273 yards by halftime. The Broncos allowed 35 points to the Chargers in the first meeting, and 48 on Sunday.
"It's humiliating is what it is," safety John Lynch said. "I don't care who you're going against, it's embarrassing. It's not acceptable."
In the third quarter, the Broncos showed some life. Rookie quarterback Jay Cutler, who struggled in his first start and in the first half against San Diego, got hot. He made some nice throws, including a pair of touchdowns to rookie tight end Tony Scheffler. The Broncos scored 17 points in the third quarter and cut San Diego's lead to 28-20.
"We did the same things, the same game plan we had in the first half, we just executed, especially on my end," Cutler said. "I made some better throws, some better decisions."
The Broncos took a step back in the fourth quarter. The final blow was when Cutler fumbled late in the game and LaDainian Tomlinson scored his third touchdown, which set the NFL single-season record.
After the disappointing loss at San Diego, the Broncos have to win their final three games. The Broncos play at Arizona, then get Cincinnati and San Francisco at home. Winning three in a row seems like a tough task for a team that hasn't won since Nov. 12, but the Broncos are keeping hope alive.
"We have three games and that's it. Don't worry about four," receiver Rod Smith said. "Honestly, with the three teams we have left, if we can't beat them, we don't deserve to go to the playoffs anyway."
PLAYER NOTES --LB Al Wilson started and played the whole game against San Diego. He was carted off the field last week with a sprained neck.
--RB Tatum Bell had 116 yards against San Diego. His biggest run was a 51-yard gain, but he should have had a 74-yard touchdown. He stepped out of bounds trying to avoid a tackle.
--TE Tony Scheffler had a pair of touchdowns. He led Denver with 66 yards receiving. That's a big step for the rookie second-round pick, who was inactive for three games in November.
--RB Mike Bell had a good game off the bench for Denver. He had 46 yards on 10 carries in relief of Tatum Bell. He should continue to get some carries the rest of the year.
--CB Darrent Williams had a tough day against San Diego. His aggressive style hurt him on some double moves, in which he bit on the fake and was beat deep.
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