Most of football fans fully anticipated watching the Denver Broncos host the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game this Sunday. Most of us thought last week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens would be a fairly routine win for the beloved orange and blue. But, it wasn’t. The Broncos and Colorado may have suffered the most devastating loss since the 1996 playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
There were high hopes for the Broncos before the 2012 season began. Everyone knew that the signing of Peyton Manning made the Broncos instantly better than last year. Most people thought the Broncos would win their division, make the playoffs as a three or four seed, and maybe make a bit of a splash.
This season, however, was not what anyone expected. The Broncos got through the toughest part of their schedule with three losses — most people expected four to six losses in the stretch. Then they went on an 11 game winning streak, the longest since the magical 1998 season, giving them the top seed in the AFC. No one thought the Broncos would tie for the best record in the NFL this year, but they did. No one thought the Broncos defense would be one the fiercest, stingiest in the league, but it was. No one thought Manning and the Broncos offense would come together to be the second highest scoring offense in the league, but it was.
When we look back on the season that was we should be somewhat disappointed. The Broncos were clearly one of the best teams in the NFL. For most of the season Manning and the Broncos made all the right moves at all the right times. But, this is the NFL. Good teams lose to other good teams.
This season will ultimately be looked at as a successful season that ended with a missed opportunity. It will also be viewed as the first glimmer of what could be a fantastic few years.
Let’s face the facts. Most people thought the Broncos would be good, a 9-7 or 10-6 ball club. Not many thought they would be legitimate Super Bowl contenders. So instead of dwelling on what might have been, the Broncos (and the rest of us) should consider what they were and what they might be over the next few years.
The Broncos defense was vastly improved under Jack del Rio. The main pieces — Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, Wesley Woodyard, and Chris Harris — are young, fast, and hungry. The Broncos offense will still have Manning — especially his brain — and the physical talents of Damarius Thomas, Eric Decker, Ryan Clady, and many others.
This team will be a team to be feared by opponents and loved by Colorado for some time. Many mistakes happened last week. Rahim Moore badly muddled pass coverage with 30 seconds remaining. The pass rushers were nonexistent. Manning threw a costly overtime interception. John Fox morphed into Dan Reeves late becoming painfully conservative. But, these are mistakes that the Broncos can and will learn from.
Who knows what the offseason will bring for this team. They will try to improve on areas where they were weak. Mostly, though, they will have many months to grow hungry, maybe even angry about how it all happened this year. It should go without saying, but next year’s Broncos will be good, and all of their fans will and should have Super Bowl on their minds once again.