Heartbroken Broncos fall after tough week

September, 26, 2010
9/26/10
10:52
PM ET
Broncos AP Photo/ Jack DempseyThe Denver Broncos observe a moment of silence for Kenny McKinley.
DENVER –- Two days after he spoke at a memorial service for the first time in his life and following a week of being a key part of the support system for the girlfriend and family of one his closest friends, Matt Prater had to prepare for an NFL game.

Just like the rest of the confusing, heartbreaking days since he received a phone call that Kenny McKinley had died Monday afternoon, Sunday wasn’t easy for the Denver Broncos’ kicker.

Six minutes before he had to kick off against the Indianapolis Colts in a 27-13 loss, Prater and his Broncos teammates had to stand through a moment of silence for McKinley.

“Here it is, just before the game and I’m crying,” Prater said. “I had to focus on a game and that was happening. I’m sure I wasn’t the only guy [crying]. ... I’m tearing up just talking about it now. It was a horrible week.”

McKinley died of an apparent suicide Monday. He was 23. The second-year receiver had been on injured reserve since early August because of a knee injury.

Since learning of McKinley’s death, the Broncos -- who had to deal with the deaths of 24-year-old players Darrent Williams and Damien Nash in 2007 -- have been burdened by grief and confusion over the death of a seemingly happy young man. Prater talked to McKinley on Sunday night and the two made plans to see each other Tuesday. Instead, Prater spent the day consoling McKinley’s girlfriend.

The Broncos had a team meeting Tuesday morning, during which coach Josh McDaniels and grief counselors addressed the team. The team had an emotional memorial service, which was attended by McKinley’s family, Friday. The team on Sunday wore McKinley’s No. 11 decal on the back of their helmets, as they will for the rest of the season.

During the moment of silence, Broncos special teams captain Wesley Woodyard pointed both arms high into the sky. As soon as the game ended, McKinley’s image graced the big screen at Invesco Field at Mile High.

Monday, a contingent of front-office members and players will attend McKinley’s funeral in Georgia.

Early last week, Broncos coach Josh McDaniels admitted that it wouldn’t be a normal week as the 1-1 Broncos had to prepare for Peyton Manning and the Colts.

And it wasn’t normal at all.

“It had a big effect on this team this week,” Prater said. "There was sadness. We felt it all week.”

[+] EnlargeMatt Prater
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireKicker Matt Prater, a close friend of Kenny McKinley, was able to connect for a 25-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Prater said Denver’s pregame locker room was much quieter than usual, though he did hear a few teammates say the Broncos needed to “win it for Kenny.”

After the game, Broncos officials privately lauded McDaniels -- who also spoke at the memorial service -- for allowing himself and his players to grieve while still keeping them focused on the game plan.

The following are some key aspects to the loss for Denver:

Too many mistakes: The Broncos hung with the Colts in this game. Yet, they were doomed by critical mistakes throughout the game. The Colts didn’t make big mistakes and that’s why they won.

Denver lost a fumbled punt at its 10. Quarterback Kyle Orton, despite putting up big numbers, was intercepted in Colts territory. Denver was stopped four straight times from the Colts’ 1.

With just over nine minutes to play and the Colts leading 20-13, Denver went for it on fourth down and 3 from the Colts’ 12. Orton couldn’t hook up with receiver Brandon Lloyd.

That play surely will be talk-radio fodder this week in the Rockies. McDaniels said he thought about going for a field goal, but stood by his decision.

“You kick a field goal and you’re down four and you go on,” McDaniels said. “You make a decision and you live with it. ... We’d probably do it again.”

Orton has a big day: Orton continued to show immense improvement. He threw for 476 yards, which was the second most passing yards in Denver history. Orton has 1,078 yards in three games.

Still, Orton, who completed 37 of 57 passes, had trouble in the red zone, completing 3 of 13. That’s where Denver last the game.

“We have to get better there,” Orton said.

Manning does enough to win: At times, Colts superstar Peyton Manning looked like the second-best quarterback on the field. But Manning made enough plays when it counted.

With Denver bottling up the Colts’ running game for much of the day, Manning was forced to win the game with his arm. No problem there.

After McDaniels’ failed gamble, Manning led the Colts on an impressive drive, including hitting receiver Austin Collie on a third-and-15 play to seal the game.

“We just didn’t make enough plays,” said Denver cornerback Champ Bailey, who played despite missing most of the practice week with a foot injury. “We just didn’t do enough.”

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN Oakland Raiders reporter

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