DENVER — Terrance Knighton summed it up for so many Broncos fans when he sat stone-faced after Seattle’s 43-8 drubbing of Denver in the Super Bowl and said, “It doesn’t feel real. It almost feels like a nightmare.”
Following an otherwise spectacular season that ended in such stunning fashion, here is a look at some of the best and worst moments for the Broncos:
Best game — AFC Championship. The Broncos dominated the New England Patriots 26-16 in what turned out to be the crowning achievement of a record-shattering season that came up short.
Worst game — Super Bowl. Peyton Manning had never played as poorly in the two years since joining the Broncos as he did at MetLife Stadium after the Broncos fell behind with a safety 12 seconds into the game and never recovered.
“We’ve been through a lot and had a lot of injuries to key players, and I’m still proud of the team with how far we got and how hard we fought,” Knighton said. “The score doesn’t tell how hard we worked all year. Hats off to Seattle.”
Best play — Manning throwing a nifty touchdown pass at Houston to tight end Julius Thomas that broke Tom Brady’s record of 50 set in 2007. He’d finish with 55 TD throws to go with a record 5,447 yards passing, surpassing Drew Brees’ mark by a yard.
Worst play — Manny Ramirez’s snap over Manning’s head to start the Super Bowl that Knowshon Moreno smothered in the end zone for a safety. “Nobody’s fault,” Manning said. “It was just a noise issue.” Coach John Fox, who was lambasted for taking a knee and playing for overtime in Denver’s playoff loss to Baltimore a year ago, will long be second-guessed for not going with a silent count instead of a cadence that his team couldn’t hear.
The 2-0 deficit wasn’t a big deal, except that it turned into a 36-0 hole by the time Demaryius Thomas scored his TD to keep Denver’s dud from being a humiliating shutout.
“It’s hard to get things turned around against a great defense like that,” said Broncos boss John Elway, who endured three Super Bowl blowouts like this one before winning back-to-back titles to cap his Hall of Fame playing career. “They are a great defense. So, that’s why you can’t afford to lose the momentum because to try to flip it on a great defense is always hard.”
Biggest surprise — Denver’s self-destruction in the Super Bowl after such a stellar season in which the Broncos averaged 37.9 points and their three losses were by a combined 16 points. They trailed by more than that at halftime against Seattle, then the Seahawks needed just 12 seconds to score again in the second half on Percy Harvin’s 87-yard TD return when one of Matt Prater’s patented touchbacks — h+e had a league-best 93 of them coming into the game, including 12 in the playoffs — would have been the best way to keep the ball out of Harvin’s hands.
“We were hyped up, saying we were going to come out and get a stop, let’s get three-and-out and then they’re like, ‘Boom!” defensive end Shaun Phillips said. “We got kicked in the chin.”
Biggest Disappointment - Failing to win a third Lombardi Trophy behind the best offense in NFL history a year after their crushing loss to Baltimore in the playoffs.
This one hurts more, linebacker Wesley Woodyard said.
“This is the biggest game, the biggest stage ever,” he said. “It (stinks) to come all the way to New York and not leave with a victory.”
What’s next — Figuring out how to parlay this defeat into a championship next season with a roster that could lose Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker to free agency and that will need a makeover on defense even if Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr., Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson, starters who were on IR by season’s end, come back and regain their form. They’ll have to look at taking a cornerback high in the draft, too.
Decker’s 32 TD grabs over the last three years are tops in the league, but the Broncos have to think about contracts looming soon for the two Thomases, who are unique talents at their positions.