This was a team loss in the truest sense. When you have a 24-0 lead in the second quarter, you're supposed to close. You should win going away. Peyton Manning and Wes Welker should be engaged in playful sideline banter with seven minutes to play. Al and Cris should be in kill-the-clock mode, yammering about the prospect of AFC teams going through Mile High in January.
Instead, the Broncos melted, surrendering 31 consecutive points in the second half. Manning and the offense admirably recovered to mount a game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, but the unit stalled again with two fruitless possessions in overtime. Carter's miscue was just the last in a long string for the Broncos after halftime.
The night will leave a lasting black eye that Denver will carry into the postseason. This remains an extremely talented team that should win 12 or 13 games and find itself in good position come playoff time. But losing on Sunday -- and losing in the dramatic and painful way they did -- will amplify the discussion about whether the Broncos can get it done when the spotlight is the brightest.
There's nothing the Broncos can do from now until January that will shake that doubt, and that includes going to Arrowhead next week and coming away with the AFC West lead. There still will be ghosts to slay.
The events of Sunday night acted as an unfriendly reminder for a team that didn't need one.