Mourning after — 6 takeaways from the Broncos’ playoff debacle and where they go from here
DENVER — Except for the first drive of the game, there was not a lot of positive takeaways from the Broncos’ 24-13 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday in an AFC Divisional playoff game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
After three seasons with Peyton Manning as the quarterback — and three AFC West titles and a trip to the Super Bowl — there are bound to be changes at Dove Valley in the wake of a second home playoff loss in three seasons.
Some takeaways from the loss — and where the Broncos go from here.
1. Better team not only won but dominated
Aside from the opening drive by the Broncos, the Colts dominated the game and were the better team.
The Colts defense harassed Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ receivers. After taking the lead in the second quarter, the Colts continued to apply pressure — and the Broncos didn’t respond. There was never a real sense the Broncos could mount a comeback and win the game.
The lack of a pass rush on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck haunted the Broncos defense, which was hampered by the poor play of cornerback Aqib Talib.
When it was time for the Broncos to fight back after getting punched by the Colts, they didn’t. The offense was pedestrian; it had only 220 yards after the opening 68-yard touchdown drive.
And the Colts controlled the ball for 8 more minutes than the Broncos. An 8-minute-plus drive in the fourth quarter capped by a field goal gave the Colts a nine-point lead and all but ended the Broncos’ hopes.
2. Peyton Manning aged considerably in the last half of the season
Since a 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams in November, Manning was never the same. He claims he wasn’t hurt aside from a thigh injury suffered in the win at San Diego, but he had zero fastball on his passes, had trouble moving — the fact he gave up running for an easy first down with no Colts defenders nearby and instead threw downfield was beyond telling — and looked very ordinary.
Manning was 26-of-46 for 211 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions, and he and the receivers could never find any rhythm after the first drive. Manning threw just three touchdowns with six interceptions in December.
And Manning’s record in the postseason continues to tumble. He’s now 11-13 in the postseason, with two one-and-done playoff exits with the Broncos sandwiched around a Super Bowl debacle against the Seattle Seahawks.
Peyton Manning’s playoff record
Peyton Manning is 11-13 in the postseason. How it breaks down.
Postseason trips: 14
Home: 8-6 (2-2 with Broncos)
Road: 2-5 (0-0 with Broncos)
Neutral site: 1-2 (0-1 with Broncos)
After a bye: 2-5 (1-2 with Broncos)
Wild card round: 3-4
Divisional round: 4-6 (1-2 with Broncos)
AFC Championship Game: 3-1 (1-0 with Broncos)
Super Bowl: 1-2
One-and-done appearances: 9 (1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014)
Times winning playoff games in consecutive seasons: 1 (2003-2004)
He’s not the player he was last year in his MVP season — or even the first half of this season. And whether he puts on a Broncos uniform again is seriously in doubt.
3. Home magic has gone missing in the playoffs
From 1977 — the first time they made the playoffs — until 1998, the Broncos were 11-2 at old Mile High Stadium in the postseason.
The only blemishes were in 1984, a 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and in 1996, a stunning 30-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Both games came in the divisional round.
Broncos Home Playoff Losses
The Broncos suffered only their fifth loss at home in the playoffs. The Broncos are now 15-5 all time at home in the postseason.
Jan. 11, 2014: Indianapolis Colts 24, Broncos 13 (Divisional round)
Jan. 12, 2012: Baltimore Ravens 38, Broncos 35, 2OT (Divisional round)
Jan. 22, 2006: Pittsburgh Steelers 34, Broncos 17 (AFC Championship Game)
Jan. 4, 1997: Jacksonville Jaguars 30, Broncos 27 (Divisional round)
Dec. 30, 1984: Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Broncos 17 (Divisional round)
Since Sports Authority Field at Mile High opened in 2001, the Broncos are only 2-3 there in the postseason with one win — 29-23 over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2011 season — coming in overtime.
It’s clear Sports Authority Field at Mile High is not the feared place to play in the postseason that Mile High Stadium was.
4. John Fox comes up short again
Another playoff loss and another news conference where Broncos coach John Fox took responsibility for the team falling short.
“I’m a head coach, the buck stops here. That’s just the reality of what we do. I think a lot of people sitting in this position have had a successful year. I would be disappointed in any of my contemporaries that their goal wasn’t to win the Super Bowl. I think that’s the setup of a 32-team league, that’s the goal of everybody. Unfortunately there’s only one (winner).”
Fox has won four straight AFC West titles, a record for the Broncos. But in three of those years, the season ended in the divisional round of the playoffs, including two at home.
Fans have clamored for a change, noting Fox is a good coach but might not be good enough to get the team over the top to a championship.
Rumors abounded Sunday the Broncos might make a change, and Fox has heard the rumblings.
“I’ve seen all kind of reports in the past, I’m sure I’ll see some moving forward,” he said. “I don’t make those decisions, I don’t control that. My intentions are to be a Denver Bronco and have been since I got here. It’s not about me; it’s about this football team.”
Some of the rumblings include bringing back former coach Mike Shanahan or even former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, now with the Baltimore Ravens. But Kubiak said Sunday night he is staying with the Ravens.
5. Offseason decisions mount
Does Manning return? How about Fox? Will Julius Thomas be re-signed? Same for defensive tackle Terrance Knighton?
General manager John Elway has a lot on his plate going into the offseason as he picks through the rubble of another playoff disappointment.
He famously said there was no “Plan B” when the Broncos signed Manning in 2012 and that it was his job to make Manning the greatest quarterback of all time.
That hasn’t happened. And the loss feels like the end of an era. A grand era that included a 38-10 regular-season mark but one that came up short in January and February with a 2-3 record.
Elway is the ultimate competitor. There is no successful season unless he’s holding the shiny silver trophy with the football on top. He was visibly upset days after the Super Bowl loss to the Seahawks in February — then went out and remade the defense by spending $60 million in guaranteed money to free agents.
The Broncos are at a crossroads — and the organization will look to Elway to see which way he takes it.
6. They said it
Broncos coach John Fox: “In playoff football you’ve got to bring your A-game. Truth be told, I thought Indianapolis played better than we did. That’s just the reality of the game. You go through with all the ‘Elite 8’ losers, I think most guys are standing there saying the same thing.”
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning: “It’s very disappointing. We all know what we want and you want to keep playing, you want to win your last game and it’s disappointing when it doesn’t come true.”
Broncos running back C.J. Anderson: “It was just tough to do anything today. They made more plays and me, individually, I didn’t make enough plays and when you don’t make enough plays in the playoffs, you’ve got to pay attention to little details. If you don’t make enough plays, you tend to lose games and that is what happened tonight.”
Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall: “We lost the game, we didn’t play how we should have played, how we needed to play to win the game, which is why we lost.”
Broncos linebacker Von Miller: “For 31 teams, you’re going to go home. You’re going to go home feeling like you didn’t get the job done. There is only one winner at the end of the season. It’s not like college where you get a bowl game or anything like that.
Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib: “(It is as) worse as it gets, bad as it gets. It turned into the last game of the season. That’s as bad as it gets.”
Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton: “It’s not a failure because I feel like we came together as a team and overcame a lot of things, especially on the defensive side, with injuries and such. It’s disappointing though because we obviously wanted to be in the Super Bowl, we obviously wanted to hoist that trophy. Mr. Elway made the changes to make us a better team and we just didn’t go out there and execute.”