ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Finally, the Denver Broncos can get ready for some meaningful football.
Oh, sure, the 13 wins and all those records Peyton Manning set will count, but the regular season was simply a warm-up act for a team with the Super Bowl on its radar.
As former Broncos defensive end and current Denver radio host Alfred Williams said back in July, “This is the only team in the NFL with 20 preseason games.”
The Broncos stormed into the playoffs last year as the No. 1 seed in the AFC, riding an 11-game winning streak and promptly lost to Baltimore in double-overtime.
“We let that opportunity slip last year and guys are definitely on high alert not to let that happen again this year,” Broncos safety David Bruton said Monday. “We’ve still got that bad taste in our mouths.”
Denver is once again 13-3 with the AFC’s top seed after making history by becoming the most prolific offensive team in the Super Bowl era, scoring 606 points behind Manning’s many records, most notably his 55 TD tosses.
“That’s in the past,” receiver Bubba Caldwell said. “We’re 0-0 now. We’ve got a three-game season ahead of us now. That’s how we look at it and we’ve got to make the most of every week. Start from scratch. None of the records mean anything. We want to make some new records in the postseason.”
The Broncos faced a lot more adversity this year than they did in 2012, both on and off the field. It started withElvis Dumervil‘s departure following the infamous fax fiasco and continued with Von Miller‘s troubled season that began with a drug suspension and ended with a knee injury.
Coach John Fox needed heart surgery and while he was out, the Broncos lost Rahim Moore, the goat of last year’s playoff pratfall, to a rare muscle condition that required emergency leg surgery, run-stuffer Kevin Vickerson went on IR with a dislocated hip that created a domino effect on defense and lineman Derek Wolfe had seizure-like symptoms on the team bus and hasn’t played in more than a month.
Every week seemed to bring a new trial or tribulation.
“Hopefully it’s served us well,” Manning said. “It’s made us better that we’ve been able to handle a lot of different things that have been thrown our way and out of our control. Hopefully, that can help us down this whole stretch.”
The Broncos’ next game in Jan. 12 against Kansas City, Indianapolis or San Diego, three teams that gave them fits this season.
Denver swept the Chiefs but both games were close. The Colts beat Denver 39-33 in Manning’s unhappy homecoming in October and the Chargers won in Denver 27-20 on Dec. 12, Manning’s only loss in a dozen AFC West games since joining the Broncos.
Their other loss came when Wes Welker blew a punt return in overtime at New England, allowing the Patriots to win in overtime in his homecoming game in November.
“We aren’t thinking about what happened during the regular season,” said cornerback Champ Bailey, still searching for a ring in his 15th season. “We’re in a position to go into the tournament and now we’ve just got to win games.”
The Broncos wrapped up home-field advantage with a 34-14 rout of Oakland on Sunday that was their best all-around game of the year.
“We still have things to work on, things to fix, things that we could get better at,” Bruton said. “Because the speed is going to be a lot faster, the hits are going to be harder and there is going to be a lot more trickery” in the playoffs.
The Broncos watched film on Monday and they’ll get two days off before returning Thursday for three days of workouts before they learn who their next opponent will be.
They talked about staying focused this week, about getting better and not letting up.
After all, the Broncos, who tied the Seattle Seahawks for most wins, are painfully aware of one of the NFL’s biggest truisms: more often than not, the regular season is for suckers.
In each of the last nine years, the team that had the best regular-season record – or tied for the best mark – failed to win the Super Bowl. The last team that parlayed the best regular-season record into the title was the 2003 Patriots.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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