Mistakes endanger Broncos' lead in division

The Denver Broncos' lead in the AFC West is down to one game, and they have only themselves to blame. When San Diego crushed New England Sunday, the Broncos had only a slim lead and a lot of questions about their breakdowns on offense and defense.

The Broncos' lead in the AFC West is down to one game, and they have only themselves to blame.

Denver leads the Chargers by only one game going into a game at New England, which is not as tough as they would have anticipated before Tom Brady's injury, but still no sure thing.

For two straight weeks, Denver has scored less than 20 points, and against Jacksonville last week, the defense gave up more than 400 yards. The Broncos made plenty of mistakes against the Jaguars, including two lost fumbles and an interception.

"You give the ball away three or four times a game, it's hard to score points," quarterback Jay Cutler said.

During the Broncos' 4-1 start, they got a few breaks. They didn't make many mistakes either, which wasn't the case on Sunday.

The Broncos dropped passes, took key penalties and turned the ball over at inopportune times. Defensively, a few breakdowns led to big plays, including one where Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew got through a hole and broke free for a 46-yard touchdown. On another play, Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis got free for a 30-yard touchdown when safeties Marquand Manuel and Marlon McCree couldn't bring him down.

The Broncos jumped out to a two-game lead over the struggling Chargers in the AFC West, including a head-to-head win against San Diego in Week 2. When San Diego crushed New England Sunday, the Broncos had only a slim lead and a lot of questions about their breakdowns on offense and defense.

Especially troubling was the way the Broncos let the Jaguars stay in the game despite driving for a touchdown on their first drive and causing a fumble on Jacksonville's first possession.

Cutler fumbled the ball back to Jacksonville on the next play, which started a bad chain of events for the Broncos.

"I thought we had a chance to take control of the football game early," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "We didn't take advantage of it."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's tough to lose a game like we lost (Sunday)." -- CB Dre Bly, on the Broncos' 24-17 loss to Jacksonville.

LINEUP WATCH: Michael Pittman's performance against the Jaguars might have signaled a big change for the Broncos offense. In the first five games, Selvin Young and Andre Hall shared the playing time evenly, with Pittman's specialized role growing a little each week. With Young out with a groin injury, the Broncos let Pittman be the workhorse. He earned that by playing well in whatever role the Broncos asked him to fill over the first five games.

Pittman carried 20 times for 109 yards against Jacksonville, and he also added three catches. Hall saw very little action as the primary backup, and didn't have one touch. Young could return as soon as this week against New England, but Pittman made a strong case to remain the starter and primary ballcarrier going forward.

"If they want me to be the starter, of course I'd love to, but I'll play my role whatever it is," Pittman said.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--WR Eddie Royal was inactive against Jacksonville with a bone bruise on his ankle. He was practicing on a limited basis in the week leading up to the game, and the Broncos hope he can return this week.

--WR Brandon Stokley suffered a concussion against the Jaguars and missed most of the second half. He will be monitored this week before the Broncos determine his status for their next game.

--LB Nate Webster continues to play well at middle linebacker. He led the Broncos with 11 tackles, had a sack and forced a fumble against Jacksonville.

--WR Darrell Jackson returned after missing four games and had three catches for 18 yards against the Jaguars. He will go back to a reserve role when Eddie Royal is healthy.

--TE Nate Jackson had a ball glance off his fingertips that would have been a touchdown. He didn't catch a pass in Tony Scheffler's absence. Scheffler was out with a groin injury.



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