Holden: One ‘deplorable’ mistake taints sterling Broncos season

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DENVER -- Ron Zappolo has been covering sports in Denver for 35 years.

On the evening before one of the most anticipated Denver Broncos' games in about 14 years, Zappolo did what he often does: He sparked a conversation about sports in the FOX31 Denver newsroom.

"If the Broncos season ends tomorrow," the news anchor began, "will you consider the 2012 season a disappointment?"

Of course you would, he hypothesized. And that's a shame.

Instant gratification is the name of our country's game, and the games we play are in the instant gratification business. You win and we put you on top of the parade float. You lose and we throw our remotes at the TV, causing irreparable damage that we will later blame on you.

Thirty-five years of reading the news to people like us has given Zappolo a level head. If he hadn't acquired one, his head would have surely exploded by now.

Regardless of tomorrow's outcome, Zappolo said on Friday, the Denver Broncos' 2012 season would have to be considered a success.

Why? Going into the season, the Broncos signed a 36-year-old quarterback coming off 17 neck surgeries. They were moving onto their fourth defensive coordinator in as many years. They had a murderer's row of games to start the season.

To finish that season 13-3 and secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC, in Zappolo's mind, was to exceed any and all expectations. A win over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisional Playoffs? That would be icing on the cake.

Zappolo was whistling a different tune Saturday night. More like screaming it.

"Unbelievable. Unbelievable. Unbelievable!!"

The slow gasps escaped Zappolo's lips as he watched the Ravens' Jacoby Jones sneak past the Broncos' last leaping line of defense (AKA Rahim Moore) to tie the game with 31 seconds to play.

Despite having time on the clock and two timeouts, Broncos head coach John Fox decided to kneel on the ball and head to overtime. There, Peyton Manning committed his third turnover of the game, throwing an interception that led to Baltimore’s game-winning field goal.

You could take the level-headed approach and point to everything that was recounted in that last paragraph, calling all of those mistakes crucial reasons -- as crucial as any -- that the Broncos season ended Saturday night.

Fox, Manning and Von Miller are sure hoping you will.

"You can point to one play, but there were plenty of other plays that make up a game," Fox said.

"I just hate that I put the defense in a bad position in overtime. That's my fault," Manning said. "If you want to blame someone for this loss, blame me."

"This loss was not just on one guy, not just on two guys, not on our offense or defense," Miller said. "It was on all of us."

Rahim Moore knows you weren't listening to any of that. And he's not going to blame you for it.

"The season ended on me," Moore said. "It's my fault. Plain and simple."

Level-headed or not, like it or not, Zappolo might have to agree. Thirty-five years in the business is more than enough to learn the cardinal sin that Moore committed: He allowed a opponent down by a touchdown with no timeouts remaining to get behind him with less than a minute left to play.

"That was deplorable," Zappolo said. "There is simply no excuse for that."

Even more deplorable? That the Broncos' 2012 season could be remembered for one mistake.

"It's going to be very tough for anyone who watched this game to think about this season without thinking about that mistake," Zappolo said. "I just hope that when the disappointment of tonight fades, people realize what this team accomplished this year.

"This is a good team and they are well-positioned to succeed in the future."

Here’s to hoping every fan is level-headed enough to realize that.

And here’s to knowing they won’t be.