HOUSTON – When Denver Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson’s streak of games without an interception ended Sunday, so did the Broncos’ five-game win streak.
Wilson’s last gasp pass was intercepted in the endzone by Texans’ safety Jimmie Ward with nine seconds left in the game and Houston held on for a 22-17 victory in NRG Stadium that put a significant dent in the Broncos’ playoff hopes.
The Broncos (6-6) entered the day just behind the Texans in the AFC playoff rankings as the two teams were ranked Nos. 8 and 9, respectively. The win gives the Texans a head-to-head victory over the Broncos and drops Denver’s record in AFC games to 3-5 this season – two key tiebreakers.
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“I thought we were sloppy most of the game,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said. ” … All the things we’ve been good about, the takeaways, giveaways, that script flipped [Sunday].”
Especially the lines of the script that included Wilson’s turnovers. Wilson did not throw an interception during the Broncos’ win streak before Sunday’s game. He entered the day with the league’s best touchdown-to-interception ratio (5.0) and was tied for a league-low four interceptions overall this season.
All three of Wilson’s interceptions Sunday came in the second half, including the third and final one, when Wilson tried to fit a third-and-goal pass into tight end Lucas Krull that Ward snatched away. It was only Krull’s second target of the season, given he has spent most of it on the practice squad.
“I’ve got to be cleaner, we’ve all got to play better, but I’ve got to play cleaner,” Wilson said. ” … Lot more ball left, lot more to do, obviously we were on a five-game win streak, we were hoping to get six [Sunday], now we’ve got to do it again.”
“I have to find a way to get that ball, by any means,” Krull said.
Wilson’s first interception came with just over a minute left in the third quarter as the Broncos started to rebound from a dismal first half and trailed 16-10. Texans defensive end Will Anderson Jr. tipped the pass that was intercepted by cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
Stingley got Wilson again with 9:33 left in the fourth quarter, with the Broncos trailing 22-17 at that point. On the third interception, Wilson said he believed he had an opportunity, after he avoided a sack, to squeeze the ball into Krull rather than throwing it away to set up an all-or-nothing fourth-down play.
“First one was tipped, they made a good play,” Wilson said. “Second one took a shot down the field, thought we had them honestly, he made a heck of a play – don’t know how he made that play honestly. Third one trying to win the game for us … We felt like we could have won this game … reality is we’ve got to be better, I’ve got to be better, it starts with me.”
It was a disappointing end of the win streak for the Broncos, but their defense didn’t get a takeaway for the first time since their Week 3 loss to the Miami Dolphins, and the Broncos’ offense had limped along with 104 yards worth of offense with seven minutes left to go in the third quarter.
“We’ve been a really good opening drive team, but man we went through those first 15 [plays] and we were struggling finding just something to get us across the 50,” Payton said. “We turned it over … it’s just disappointing to lose a game like this.”
The Broncos did let some time slip away before Wilson’s last interception. After a 4-yard completion from Wilson to running back Javonte Williams that put the ball at the Texans’ 13-yard line, a play that started with 1:19 left in the game, the Broncos didn’t run another play until there were 39 seconds left in the game.
Payton also elected to use a timeout – their second of the half – after a Wilson incompletion with 35 seconds left in the game. So the Broncos eventually faced the third-and-goal situation when Wilson threw his last interception without a timeout in hand.
Payton said he wanted to make sure the Broncos were in “the right play” with 35 seconds left in a fourth-and-2 situation. Wilson converted the first down with a 5-yard scramble, but had to use the Broncos’ third timeout to stop the clock after the play.
“Wasn’t a timeout issue, wasn’t a clock issue, I wanted to right play, it was fourth down,” Payton said.