DENVER (AP) -- Now Mike Shanahan wishes he hadn't gotten his
Denver's coach wanted Kansas City to win on Sunday so that the
Broncos wouldn't back into the playoffs but be motivated to play
their best football.
Instead, the Broncos tumbled into the offseason when Joe Nedney's 36-yard field goal with 1:56 left in overtime sent the San
Francisco 49ers past the stunned Broncos 26-23.
"Well, you want to play your best football this time of year,"
Shanahan said. "If we played like we did today, we wouldn't go
very far in the playoffs. If we played like we did last couple of
weeks, we had a chance to do something special."
Now, their AFC rivals in Kansas City will have that opportunity.
Denver's fifth loss in seven games made the Chiefs (9-7) the final
Had the Chiefs not beaten Jacksonville, the Broncos would be
heading to the postseason, even with their loss.
All the Broncos (9-7) needed was a win over the double-digit
underdog Niners (7-9) or even a tie to earn a spot in the playoffs
but they couldn't score touchdowns on three trips inside the Niners' 5 and blew
an early 13-0 lead.
"Whenever you get on the 1-yard twice and in the red zone three
times and you don't score no touchdowns that's pathetic," Broncos
rookie receiver Brandon Marshall said. "We have a lot of work to
"San Francisco?" Marshall added. "Come on, San Francisco? It
was a perfect setup for us."
And an absolute letdown.
"We had some opportunities early to put the game away,"
Shanahan said. "Obviously, San Francisco did a fine job keeping us
Of the end zone and the playoffs.
"You better believe it felt good taking them out," Niners
quarterback Alex Smith said. "If we were going to be home for the
playoffs we wanted them to be right with us."
With a sputtering ground game, the Broncos were unable to run
out the clock in overtime.
"We weren't thinking about a tie," rookie quarterback Jay Cutler said. "That was the
last thing on our minds. You play another 15 minutes, somebody's
going to score most of the time."
San Francisco got the ball back with 4:38 left in overtime and
drove 42 yards to the Denver 18, where Nedney kicked his fourth
field goal. As it sailed through the uprights, Denver safety John
Lynch smashed his helmet on the grass, a crushing end to Denver's
dreams of a franchise-record fourth straight trip to the playoffs.
Niners coach Mike Nolan said that if Chiefs coach Herm Edwards
gets a bonus for reaching the playoffs, "I want half of it."
The Broncos sent the game into overtime when Cutler, who was
knocked woozy and sidelined by a hard hit in the first half, drove
his team 80 yards in 10 plays and threw a fastball to fellow rookie
Tony Scheffler for a 9-yard TD with 90 seconds left in regulation.
"I was a little dinged up. My head was swimming a little bit,"
Cutler said. "But I was fine in the second half."
After Champ Bailey returned his league-leading 10th interception
70 yards for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead, the Niners responded with
17 straight points, capped by Walt Harris's 28-yard interception
return for a touchdown.
Harris, who had three takeaways, also picked off Jake Plummer,
who came in after Anthony Adams' hard hit sent Cutler to the
sideline in the second quarter. Plummer, who was benched five weeks
ago, also committed a false start.
Capitalizing on linebacker Al Wilson's absence with a sore lower
back, Frank Gore, the NFC's starting Pro Bowl running back, gained
153 yards on 31 carries and caught two more passes for 32 yards for
"Not to be able to help this team in the end is very tough,"
said Wilson, the Broncos' best tackler.
Cutler looked woozy upon his return after halftime and made
several bad decisions and poor throws and even burned all of
Denver's three timeouts on one third-quarter drive.
"I don't blame it on the quarterback. I blame it on me,"
Shanahan said. "I have to get it in there a little quicker."
"You could see it in his eyes he wasn't all there," Scheffler
said of Cutler. "He obviously came in and toughed it out and
played a pretty good game overall, with exception of one
Bailey led the league with 11 takeaways --
but that would be of little consolation to the perennial Pro Bowl
"It's terrible, it really is," said Broncos receiver Rod
Smith, one of a handful of holdovers from the Broncos' championship
teams of the late 1990s. "We're better than that football team, by
far. We didn't play like it today. It ended our season. We ended
our own season. It's hard to take that. We were in control of our
own fate and we chose not to move forward and nothing you can do
about it now."
Gore broke Garrison Hearst's single-season franchise
records for rushing and total yards. ... Denver's Tatum Bell topped
1,000 yards rushing but committed a costly fumble for the third