DENVER -- In the span of 16 seconds Sunday night the Denver Broncos almost, as in within a hair's width, squandered a much-needed win in a historical, destined-for-a-blooper-reel sort of way, as they could only sigh with relief when they escaped with a 17-10 victory over Washington.
However, those 16 seconds of offensive futility may have summed up a growing list of woes on that side of the ball, with an ill-timed incompletion sandwiched between two different running backs putting the ball on the ground in a three-play span. The second of those bobbles, a lost fumble by Melvin Gordon III, almost became the nightmare of nightmares for a team that still can't say it has regained its balance if it can't find more points in the weeks ahead.
"Whatever the worst word you can use to describe it, you can use to describe it," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio of the final offensive sequence. " ... It was awful, it was a terrible, terrible series of downs for us."
In the end, the Broncos did their no-harm, no-foul best to cherish a rather choppy win that ended their four-game losing streak so they could claw back to 4-4 on the year. But step away, take a breath and it's clear they still have a significant problem on their hands.
They have scored more than 20 points in only one of their last five games -- a 34-24 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Oct. 17 -- and at 19.6 points per game are averaging fewer than 21 points per game for the sixth consecutive season. They have one player -- Gordon -- who has more than three touchdowns this season. By contrast, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have five players with at least three scores.
Asked Sunday if that was a hard way to live in today's NFL, Fangio said: "Yeah it is. We're going to Dallas next and I thought I saw somewhere, laying in bed, I think it was last night, that Dallas had scored at least 35 in their last four games ... we better get some points."
It isn't a new problem for the Broncos. It's just Pat Shurmur is the latest offensive coordinator, Teddy Bridgewater is the latest quarterback and Fangio the latest head coach to participate in this dilemma.
"Wished we could have taken advantage of certain situations a little more," Bridgewater said. " ... If we could just avoid negative plays."
Last season's Broncos, with Drew Lock at quarterback, couldn't survive their own turnovers, as Lock tied for the league lead in interceptions and the Broncos led the league in giveaways overall. This year the Broncos are far closer to the middle of the pack with nine turnovers, including Gordon's fumble Sunday.
But this edition of the Broncos has struggled mightily on third down and has converted far too few trips in the red zone into touchdowns. The Broncos entered Sunday's game 27th in the league in third down conversions and were tied for 28th in red zone efficiency.
Sunday, against one of the league's worst pass defenses, the Broncos had six possessions go for 50 or fewer yards, including three in the second half that went for fewer than 20.
"We just have to make our plays, we can't go three-and-out ... we just can't do it," Gordon said." ... There's no magic formula."
The Broncos could use a little hocus pocus given that three of their next four opponents are the Cowboys, who could have quarterback Dak Prescott back in the lineup, the Los Angeles Chargers and quarterback Justin Herbert and the Kansas City Chiefs with former NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes.
The Broncos had hoped the return of wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, who had not played since the season opener due to an ankle injury, and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam, who had missed the last three games with a hamstring injury, would add some pop. Jeudy had four catches for 39 yards and Okwuegbunam had three receptions, but the Broncos didn't get too many swings with just 51 plays.
Sunday was the fourth game in the last five they've run fewer than 60 plays on offense, the second in a row they've run fewer than 55.
"We've got to keep improving ... we've got to be able to score more points that's obvious," Fangio said. "We've got to be able to sustain drives more often, and that's obvious."