In order to have a chance to be in the playoffs, the Broncos needed to win out. The first leg of that featured the New England Patriots, a team that many saw as the easiest win of the three. But the Broncos fell behind 23-7 in the third quarter and lost on a last-second field goal.
The Broncos played a perplexing game throughout the first three quarters and after taking a 7-3 lead into halftime, watched as the Patriots, who had only scored a total of 26 third-quarter points this season, score 20 in the third.
But then, the Broncos launched a furious comeback complete with touchdown passes from Russell Wilson to Lucas Krull and Brandon Johnson. They converted a two-point conversion after each to tie the game 23-23.
The home crowd was back into it and the Broncos had all of the momentum. But after forcing a Patriots punt with around two minutes left to play, the Broncos went three-and-out and had to give the ball back.
The Patriots seemed content with going into overtime, handing the ball off to Ezekiel Elliott on consecutive plays. But Sean Payton used a time out after each, basically daring Bailey Zappe to make a play. And that he did.
On 3rd-and-3 from their own 26-yard line, Zappe hit DeVante Parker for a gain of 27 yards. That helped set up the game-winning field goal by Chad Ryland from 56 yards out.
It is a crushing loss for the Broncos as their postseason hopes are now all but completely gone. And what makes that even worse is that the team got pretty much exactly what it needed from around the league this weekend.
Looking at the AFC playoff picture, the team now has bleak odds of ending its postseason drought.
1. Baltimore Ravens: 11-3
2. Miami Dolphins: 11-4
3. Kansas City Chiefs: 9-5
4. Jacksonville Jaguars: 8-7
5. Cleveland Browns: 10-5
6. Buffalo Bills: 9-6
7. Indianapolis Colts: 8-7
8. Houston Texans: 8-7
9. Cincinnati Bengals: 8-7
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: 8-7
11. Denver Broncos: 7-8
The Broncos will now need a myriad of things to bounce their way to get a Wild Card spot. During the telecast, analytics showed that the team would have just a 5 percent chance to make the playoffs with a loss.
So for the second year in a row, Christmas is a rough time for Broncos Country. Last year, the Grinch came and stole all the packages before the Broncos were hammered 51-14 by the Los Angeles Rams. This year, the Broncos came so close to pulling off a Miracle on 34th Street-style comeback, but saw those hopes go up into the Christmas night.