KANSAS CITY, MO. -- For a short time, hope seemed real. The Broncos had a chance to cleanse two forgettable weeks with a memorable fourth quarter. They trailed by one score with 16 minutes remaining.
But once the final stanza began, the disorientation returned, the Broncos floating back toward the bottom of the AFC West standings.
With Trevor Siemian unable to overcome an abysmal first half and the defense without a last gasp, the Broncos fell 29-19 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night.
"I am going to watch the film tonight like most coaches would do and see. With three straight losses and five turnovers, anything is possible," coach Vance Joseph said of possibly benching Siemian. "Our defense played winning football in my opinion. Our offensive line blocked well. And our pass pro was better. But it all falls back to turning the ball over five times."
They trailed 26-13 with 7:03 remaining. It was a reminder of what could have been and what has become of this season. The Broncos own a five-game AFC West losing streak, and sit 3-4 with games looming against the NFC-best Philadelphia Eagles and the defending champion New England Patriots.
"Of course we are frustrated," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We have to find a way. And we have to score more points."
Uncertainty surrounds the Broncos. Where do they go from here? Is a change necessary at quarterback as fans want? Are full-scale changes needed on special teams? This record is not a reflection of one player, but a team speeding to nowhere.
Perhaps the most egregious play came in the second quarter. On third down, embattled Siemian rolled right. First down yardage opened in front of him, grass screaming to be trampled. Tight end A.J. Derby wandered across the middle, in clear line of sight. Instead, Siemian elected for Door No. 3, lobbing a 50-50 deep pass toward Jordan Taylor that Ron Parker intercepted. He finished with three interceptions and a 43.5 quarterback rating.
"I have to play better," said Siemian, who had an 8.9 rating at halftime.
It explains why ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said he would make changes, and Hall of Fame quarterback Kurt Warner admitted on the national radio broadcast he felt sorry for Denver's defense.
Punched in the throat, kicked in the shins, the Broncos finally retaliated in the second half. Joseph said he stayed with Siemian because it became a one-score game.
Relying on a mudflap ground game, Denver rallied to make the game interesting.
The Broncos shaved the deficit to 20-13 with something that seemed as foreign as pet rocks and VHS tapes. Denver delivered an 80-yard drive, an old school march relying mainly on running backs and a critical interference play on Demaryius Thomas. Devontae Booker burst through a wide-open lane created by guard Ron Leary. With only their fourth touchdown in 19 quarters and second in their last 13 red zone attempts, the Broncos were within a score of Kansas City.
As illogical as it seemed on a night when Siemian finished the first half with an 8.9 rating and Denver committed four turnovers, the Broncos had a chance to revive their season. A fizzle followed, symbolic of the three-game losing streak.
Monday started with such promise.
Wind swirling, boos percolating, Jamaal Charles took the handoff and burst 18 yards over right guard on his first carry. This what we all wanted. Remove the bubble wrap, "take off the training wheels," and let Charles loose. He burst for 18 yards on his first carry, showing a gif of his old self, the player who recorded 64 touchdowns as a Chief. He followed with four on his second attempt and churned his leg for a first down on his third carry when Kansas City splattered barbeque sauce on his developing canvas.
Cornerback Marcus Peters yanked the ball out of Charles' hands, scooped it off the turf and raced 45 yards for a touchdown. He punctuated it with a dunk over the goal post. The Broncos, once again, were posterized, trailing 7-0 with 9:41 remaining in the first.
"I tried to do too much," Charles said.
In these cases, the Broncos' defense, elasticity absent after two seasons of being stretched relentlessly, revealed a fatal flaw. Denver offers no resistance to tight ends. Travis Kelce corralled a 29-yard touchdown pass, jogging wide open into the end zone as Darian Stewart trailed badly.
Just when you thought it could not get worse than the Giants and Chargers losses, this game said, "Hold My Beer." On the ensuing play, Siemian, whose confidence was rattled over the last month, underthrew Jeff Heuerman by 10 yards. Why Heuerman? And why challenge Peters? The Pro Bowler snared it for arguably the easiest pick of his young career.
A gift provided the Broncos hope. As the Chiefs prepared to punch the Broncos in the throat, they decided to get cute. Tyreek Hill attempted an option pass, and looked worse than every reliever in Game 5 of the World Series. Stewart put the knuckleball out of its misery, picking it off.
Denver responded with its best drive since the Raiders game. The Broncos moved 71 yards on 13 plays, but the achievement felt hollow. The Broncos failed to score a red zone touchdown for the 12th time in their last 13 attempts. A sack and a conservative-don't-turn-the-ball-over-route on third down doomed the Broncos to a 27-yard field goal. The Broncos trailed 14-3, wasting a prime opportunity.
Despite an 8.9 quarterback halftime rating, Siemian remained in the game as Brock Osweiler watched in a coat and ball cap. He slowly made progress, only to have special teams continue its season-long sabotage. Isaiah McKenzie fumbled a punt. The defense covered up more blemishes than Revlon. The Broncos held the Chiefs to a pair of field goals in three red zone trips, leaving Denver trailing 20-6 in the third quarter.
Only flickers followed. The Broncos are a team in trouble, staring bloodshot eyes into a meaty schedule with concerns flooding the locker room.
"I am pissed. I hate losing," said running back C.J. Anderson. "I have to do more. We have to break long runs, and get in the end zone."
Jamaal Charles served as one of the Broncos' honorary captains in his return to Kansas City. ... The Broncos have been outscored 48-6 in the first halves of the past three games. ... Linebacker Todd Davis (ankle) said he would be ready to play at Philadelphia. Same goes for receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who missed his second straight game with a sprained ankle.