Then, in a testament to their spiraling season, the Broncos fell to 3-6 Sunday when McManus’ dramatic, potential game winner sailed wide right on the last play of a 19-17 loss to the Houston Texans. McManus had missed a 62-yard field goal just before halftime, and the two misses were just his second and third of the season.
And while there was an unpredictable wind and his offense could have done a little more to help his cause in each instance to get him closer, McManus took the blame.
“Both kicks were terrible kicks by me," McManus said. “I didn’t even give them a chance. Like I said, it’s tough on these guys to fight so hard and just to have two terrible kicks and not even give myself a chance to make them."
The Broncos have had so much unravel on them at times this season -- whether it has been game-crippling turnovers, drive-killing penalties, a pile of missed tackles or just plain bad luck on the injury front -- but McManus had been a given for much of the first half of the season. He had made his first 11 field goal attempts of the season, including a 39-yard winner over the Oakland Raiders in Week 2.
But he missed a 55-yarder last week in the Broncos’ 30-23 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs to go with Sunday’s two misses. Since Sunday’s misses came after McManus had hit a 44-yarder in the first quarter, it marked the first time in his five years as the Broncos’ kicker that McManus had missed consecutive attempts.
Earlier this season, he had called that streak, “The thing I’m most proud of because to go back out there after a miss and make one for your team, that’s huge, that’s an important part of the job, that's the difference between making it in this job or not, what you do after misses."
On Sunday, however, McManus’ team didn’t do him any favors. On the final drive, a drive that had seen the Broncos convert on two fourth-down plays, they had a first-and-10 at the Texans’ 37-yard line with 43 seconds to play.
The Broncos ran just one play, a 5-yard pass from Case Keenum to tight end Jeff Heuerman over the next 30 seconds. And with just 13 seconds to play, with Keenum in the shotgun, they ran Phillip Lindsay into the middle of the Texans' defensive line for a loss of one yard.
It meant that instead of a more manageable kick McManus could have had if the Broncos had done a little more with the previous 40 seconds, he was facing a 51-yarder with three seconds left in the game. Casey Kreiter’s snap was high, but punter Colby Wadman got the ball placed for the kick, a kick McManus said he knew “instantly" was a miss.
“It sucks because you come in kicking pretty well and, like I said, two bad kicks didn’t even give us a chance," McManus said.
Broncos coach Vance Joseph had McManus attempt the 62-yarder with 22 seconds left in the first half, and that attempt was short and wide right. The Texans went 20 yards on three plays with the cozy field position they had following the miss, and Texans kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn made a made a 46-yarder to close out the half to turn a 13-10 Texans lead into a 16-10 margin at halftime.
“At half, I mean that’s totally on me," Joseph said. “Trying to be greedy, trying to get three more points there, and it cost us three. I get that."
McManus put the onus on himself.
“I let these guys down," McManus said. “I’ve got to do better and play a bigger role in helping bounce this team back."