DENVER (CBS4) – After coming on so strong early in the season, if quarterback Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos don’t go all the way to Super Bowl XLVIII and win, will this season be considered a failure?
After five games and five big wins, the Broncos are on pace to become the first team in the history of the NFL to exceed 600, maybe even 700 points, in a season. It is the most remarkable five-game stretch in the history of professional football.
The numbers don’t lie. What Manning has done in his first five games — his assault on the record books — is simply unprecedented. He’s 37 — with four neck surgeries — and he’s never played better.
Any season that doesn’t end in a Super Bowl win is always disappointing for NFL teams and for fans, but former running back Reggie Rivers says things are different for these Broncos. This is the team that lost in their first four Super Bowl appearances (1977, 1986, 1987 and 1989), after all.
“When I arrived here in 1991 people were talking about that, saying ‘I would rather not be in the Super Bowl then go to the Super Bowl and lose it,’ ” said former running back Reggie Rivers.
Rivers said Broncos fans should be hopeful that history will repeat itself and events play out like they did after the team’s 1996 season.
“What happened last season and how they are playing this season just mirrored so much of what happened in 1996, which was my last career game — against Jacksonville,” Rivers said. “And then they came back and won two Super Bowls. I think the city is ready for the repeat of that and if that doesn’t happen then it’s like they have been cheated out of history — like this is what’s supposed to happen.”
CBS4 sports anchor Tom Helmer echoed those sentiments this week as he watched the team prepare at their Dove Valley headquarters for their next opponent — the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“The goal of every NFL team is to win it all,” he said. “The Broncos were straddled with high expectations to start the season, which will fuel disappointment if the team doesn’t bring home the Lombardi Trophy.”
CBS4 sports anchor Vic Lombardi disagreed, saying the season could still be considered a success even if the Broncos don’t win it all, but “they must at least get to the Super Bowl.”
“Getting there will appease most fans,” Lombardi said.
Former Broncos center and newly inducted Ring of Famer Tom Nalen agreed that the sight of the Broncos suiting up at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey would be satisfying to some degree.
“This team has the mantra of Super Bowl or bust, and Peyton Manning doesn’t have many years left. We pay him $20 million a year. We have a very good receiving core, we’re averaging 46 points a game right now. I think it would be foolish to think this season is a success if they do not make the Super Bowl,” Nalen said. “They are absolutely the best NFL team right now.”
Lombardi joked that not reaching the Super Bowl would be “utter failure, the likes of which may shut down the city for decades.”
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Last year Manning’s overwhelming regular season success didn’t translate to success in the playoffs, and Helmer says that might give Broncos fans reason to “enter the postseason with a bit of trepidation,” assuming they make it this season.
“In Peyton Manning’s playoff career he has led teams to the playoffs 12 times. Of those 12 times he has lost the first game of the postseason eight times,” Helmer said. “If history has taught us anything it’s that winning football’s ultimate prize is difficult. Manning will go into the Hall of Fame as one of the games greatest quarterbacks, but as we stand today he has a losing postseason record (9-11) and has only hoisted the Lombardi Trophy once.”
When CBS4 caught up with Nalen after the Broncos devastating playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January he said Manning’s postseason performance was definitely cause for concern.
“The regular season is great, but it doesn’t mean anything unless you do something in the playoffs with it,” Nalen said. “I think Manning puts so much pressure to be perfect all the time, and football is not a game of perfection. You have to roll with the mistakes, and overcome them and not let the pressure get to you. And I think that he puts so much pressure on himself that it affects him in the playoffs.”
Broncos head coach John Fox put the excitement over the Broncos season in perspective somewhat this week when he was asked about playing the Jaguars on Sunday. At the start of the week oddsmakers had the Broncos winning by a historic point spread of four touchdowns.
“This team has beaten us I think four out of the last five times we’ve played, the last three in a row,” Fox said. “There is nobody here taking anybody lightly. This is pro football. Everybody gets paid and everybody has pride in what they put out there on the field.”
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For Broncos fans, things have certainly changed quickly since their 2010 campaign when they only had four wins.
“Disappointment is relative. Just try and remember where the Broncos were two years ago,” Helmer said.
“I think by their definition and by most of the fans’ definition this season would be a failure without the trophy,” Rivers said. “This team has all of the ability and all the talent to win the Super Bowl.”
– Written by Jesse Sarles for CBSDenver.com