Semifinal Shocker: The Broncos go bust at the worst possible time

For most of the 2013 season, the Broncos offense has been fantasy nirvana, a pinball machine, fake-football gods.

But at the worst possible time, the Broncos turned into fantasy frauds. Queue the tape from San Diego's stunning 27-20 victory at Denver on Thursday night. Time to sort through the wreckage.

Peyton Manning was the only major Denver player who didn't have a washout game. Oh, sure, you wanted something better than 289 passing yards and two scores (against one pick), given what he's done in 2013. His fantasy output came in about 20 percent light, depending on your scoring system. But this outing from Manning might not crush you. Hopefully the rest of your roster can bail you out.

The rest of the skill guys on the Denver sideline? Oh, they crushed you. A giveaway defense was staring the Broncos in the face for three hours, and the men in orange couldn't take advantage of it. This is an offense where the studs routinely score early and often. On Thursday night, no Broncos were scoring.

No one except Andre Caldwell, that is. Manning didn't help matters by going off the board here. The unheralded Caldwell, Reche's little brother, collected six catches, 59 yards, and both of Denver's touchdowns, making use of 10 targets. To anyone who saw that coming, I'd like your lottery numbers for the rest of the decade.

As for the other Denver disappointments, sign in, please:

-- Knowshon Moreno finally had a pumpkin game, eight carries for 19 yards. The game situation didn't help, of course. He picked up some cheap receiving work (5-36, six targets), most of it in the second half.

-- Montee Ball had three carries for minus-one yard, though he was handy in the pass game (5-49, on five targets). There were no goal-line touches to be found.

-- Julius Thomas caught just half of his eight targets (4-49).

-- Demaryius Thomas was invisible for most of the night (4-45, five targets), and same goes for Eric Decker (2-42, five targets). And obviously Wes Welker (post concussion) didn't play.

-- The Jacob Tamme thing didn't happen: two targets, one garbage time catch for nine yards. I can't fault anyone for using this play. I liked it, too. I would have tried it in a few leagues if not blocked by opponents (it happened at least three times).

The Chargers offense played into the story, of course. San Diego held the ball for almost 39 minutes and ran the ball effectively (Ryan Mathews, we salute you). Philip Rivers only attempted 20 passes (two of them went for touchdowns, courtesy of super-rookie Keenan Allen). But no one expected the Broncos to have three straight three-and-outs in the second period, or a fourth straight punt (after just four snaps) in the early third quarter. For the most part, the Chargers defense simply got the better of the Broncos offense.

What's the silver lining for Denver investors? A few things come to mind. The team can't flag its Week 16 game at Houston - it will be full-out to win there, no matter what happens the rest of Week 15. The Broncos will be well rested for that game, and it comes in a weather-safe environment against a weak opponent. We're also done with Thursday Night Football for 2013 - I can't think of many people who are going to miss that.

If the rest of your fantasy team can pick up the slack, your Broncos will probably make it up to you next week. But for a lot of people, the 2013 bad beat was scripted Thursday night. This will be the game a lot of semifinalists remember, especially those that are defeated.

I'm not just a fantasy scribe, of course, I'm also a player. I'm in six semifinal games and I've got Denver angles all over the place, for and against. It's too early to say how this result affected me. I'm not happy about it or sad about it; I try to remove myself from that sort of thing. I'm just trying to digest it, learn from it, make sense of it.

And to be fair, this type of shortfall happens every year, to someone. Remember Arian Foster's 15 yards in Week 16 last year? No one dominates all the time. Sometimes good matchups go bad and there's nothing you could have done, no way to see the pothole ahead of schedule.

Share your joy or pain in the comments. Let's congregate, congregators. There's still a lot of important (fake) football to be played.