DENVER -- The Denver Broncos went with math over a gut feel Saturday night, and many of their faithful left the 17-16 loss to the Cleveland Browns talking about a fourth-and-1 on which the team didn't go for it in the closing minutes as the Broncos dropped to 6-8 and the brink of postseason elimination.
With 4 minutes, 39 seconds remaining, trailing 17-13 and with a fourth-and-1 on the Cleveland 6-yard line, Broncos coach Vance Joseph sent kicker Brandon McManus out for a field goal as boos cascaded down from the stands.
"I wanted points there,'' Joseph said. "Had about 4:35 to go in the game. We had one timeout and the two-minute warning. I trust our defense to get a stop there, OK. If we don't get points there, a touchdown has to win it. It was my decision -- take points.''
McManus made the 29-yard field goal -- after a delay of game penalty -- and the Broncos did get the ball back after their defense stopped the Browns deep in Denver territory, but the Broncos couldn't move the ball past the 50-yard line to kick a game winner.
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum said he was confident that the Broncos could have converted the fourth-and-1, but he added that he was angry he didn't get the offense in position for the game winner after the team got the ball back.
"Yes, I felt confident [we would have converted the fourth down],'' Keenum said. "I wanted to convert third down. That's what I wanted to do. [Joseph] felt like the defense would get a stop, and [we would] get the ball back, and they did. They got a stop, and we got the ball back. I can't complain. I had the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game. That's all you can ask for.''
Joseph said "absolutely'' the Broncos' back-to-back runs for just 2 yards and no gain on the two plays before the field goal influenced the decision.
"Absolutely, the third-down play didn't look great, and we had points,'' Joseph said. "Again, I trust our defense to get a stop the next drive, and we did ... hoping we get a stop there and get the ball back.''
While the Broncos' defense held on a Browns fourth-down play on the next Cleveland possession, that stand came at Denver's 13-yard line after Browns running back Nick Chubb gained 53 yards on six carries on the drive. That included a 40-yard run on the first play of Cleveland's drive.
"That last drive, what was it: 75 yards rushing?'' Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. "We can't allow that.''
In five plays, the Broncos were able to go from their own 13-yard line to earn a first-and-10 at the 50-yard line with 52 seconds to play. Joseph said he believed the Broncos needed to get to the Cleveland 42-yard line, at minimum, for McManus to have a chance at a game winner.
Keenum spiked the ball on first down and threw two incompletions to give the Broncos a fourth-and-10 from the 50. Keenum took a low snap in the shotgun and was swarmed under by the Browns' rush for a sack to end the Broncos' chances.
"I'm still pretty emotional about it,'' Keenum said. "Man, that's what I dream about. Man, that's what I want. I want the ball in my hands with a chance to win the game ... to get that close, it pisses me off ... Lot of anger at myself. There's some plays I could make that I didn't.''