There’s no sugarcoating this one, Denver Broncos fans. It’s 1996 all over again.
This one stings.
The Broncos are not Super Bowl bound. The Broncos are not preparing to host an AFC Championship Game next week. The Broncos have one-and-blundered a playoff game and are one-and-done.
The Denver Broncos, 13-3, winners of 11 straight, and first seed in the AFC, are done. The Baltimore Ravens edged them in a double overtime game in the divisional playoffs. Let’s break it down.
1. Trindon Holliday. The specialist set two separate playoff records today with his punt and kick returns for touchdowns. Holliday, who had been struggling with ball security as the regular season reached its conclusion, proved to be the most dangerous weapon for the Broncos Saturday afternoon. Without his 14 points, this may have been a blowout loss.
2. Ronnie Hillman. Of all the people to carry this team on his back, who would have thought it would be this rookie? Another young player struggling with ball security near season’s end, Hillman rose to this playoff occasion, especially in the second half.
3. Wesley Woodyard. He balled out. Woodyard seemed to be on a different level today. It felt like half of his defensive teammates were choking with nervousness while Woodyard rose to the occasion. He gave his all, every single play.
1. The officiating. Can we have the replacement refs back now? This was the most atrociously called game I have seen in some time. Phantom PI’s called against the Broncos, extending Ravens drives. No flag for real PI’s against the Ravens, resulting in at least one Peyton Manning interception. Terrible delays in the game as of the officiating crew struggled to communicate with each other and to the fans. A complete blind eye to the holds against Elvis Dumervil. Questionable play reviews, and a clear favoritism toward the traveling underdogs.
2. The offensive playcalling. All week leading up to the game, media had been praising the chemistry of Peyton Manning to his receivers Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. Yet, when game time came, it felt like the Broncos had forgotten that connection altogether. The Broncos were conservative — painfully so — and never went for the Ravens’ jugular, despite having a lead most of the game. They ran and dumped off and ran and ran again, when this season had been built on the arm of Peyton Manning. With three minutes to play and one first down to go from a victory, the team should have relied on Manning’s arm at least once, rather than running on every down to eliminate 30 more seconds of clock time. They should have been bold. They should have been aggressive. They should have let Peyton win the game.
3. The defensive execution. If it wasn’t for the big plays the defense allowed, the Broncos would be preparing for the final round of the playoffs next Sunday. The Broncos failed to consistently pressure Joe Flacco. The secondary allowed receivers to get behind them, leading to touchdowns. Ray Rice broke into the backfield and proved too slippery to take down right away. Few defensive players played with any consistency Saturday. It was a blight on an otherwise successful season.
1. Rahim Moore. Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post is already calling it the worst play in franchise history. It’s hard to come up with something worse. All Moore had to do was the one and first job of every safety in the NFL — not let the wide receiver behind him. Instead, Moore did, and even when Joe Flacco‘s Hail Mary pass hung in the air, Moore tried to backpedal to make a play instead of sprinting to get in coverage, an egregious error that led to the tying score with just over 30 seconds left in the game. The Broncos and Ravens had no business going into overtime — basic defensive fundamentals would have prevented that.
2. Champ Bailey Champ remains one of the most consistent, hard-to-beat cornerbacks in the NFL, despite his age, but Saturday was an exception. Champ was beaten, plain and simple, and it was difficult to watch.
3. Peyton Manning.. The throw across his body that was intercepted to end the game. After so many years and so many throws in this league, it’s hard to accept that that throw was his last of the 2012 season. Manning needs to stop trying so hard to make a play in the playoffs, and let his team naturally rise up to make plays for him. He needs to talk to John Elway. More.
It was a great year boys — a great year until Saturday’s terrible ending, wiping out a successful season. This won’t be remembered for the 11 straight wins, it will be remembered for the heartbreaking loss. 2012 is 1996 all over again.
Hopefully the sting of this year has the same effect on this coming team as it did then. Go Broncos, 2013.