KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Denver Broncos left another came-up-short effort at Arrowhead Stadium -- their losing streak against the Kansas City Chiefs now at 12 games following a 22-9 loss on Sunday night -- still clinging to the slimmest playoff hopes in the chaotic AFC race.
But their margin for error has virtually evaporated and they need to start scoring touchdowns soon.
The Broncos, now 6-6, have just a 22% chance of making the playoffs, according to ESPN's Football Power Index. There are 11 teams in the AFC that currently have the same or better record than the Broncos with Pittsburgh (6-5-1), Cleveland (6-6) and Las Vegas (6-6) each holding a head-to-head win over the Broncos.
The Broncos have home games the next two weeks -- against the Detroit Lions and Cincinnati Bengals -- before they close out the year with three consecutive AFC West games, including road games against the Raiders and Chargers before the season finale against the Chiefs.
"We obviously know there are opportunities out there," said Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II, who had his fourth interception of the season in the third quarter Sunday. "We have a lot of season left, we're going to see them again later down the road ... we're going to keep on fighting, going to keep on doing what we need to do."
The Broncos, who limited Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to 15 completions and kept him without a touchdown pass, are playing good enough defense to be in the hunt. But offensively, they will have to close the deal in the red zone with touchdowns far more often. They must also start faster than they did Sunday night when consecutive three-and-outs in the first quarter allowed the Chiefs to jump ahead 10-0.
The Broncos did have 404 yards of offense, a product of some Styrofoam yardage in the fourth quarter after the Chiefs led by 19 points with 9 minutes, 42 seconds to play. The zenith of offensive frustration may have come in the second quarter when the Broncos used up 11:07 of the quarter on a 20-play drive and still came away with no points when they failed to convert a fourth-and-2 from the Chiefs' 8-yard line.
"We just didn't finish it and get the last 2 yards to keep it going," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio.
The Broncos' five-year playoff drought has reached such a point that kicker Brandon McManus is the only player remaining from Super Bowl 50 -- the team's last playoff game. None of the Broncos draft picks since 2016 -- when safety Justin Simmons was a third-round pick -- have suited up for a playoff game for the team.
In short, they have very few experiences to call on as they try to defeat the math down the stretch.
When asked if he felt there was enough belief in the locker room to close strong, Sutton said: "One thousand percent. We have five games left and they're all playoff games. We hold our destiny in our hands, you know, taking these five games like playoff games. It's win or go home mentality for us. The locker room understands that."
"We just got to rebound and start this last five-game run ... and get back on track," Fangio said. "We're still in the hunt and we can take care of business."