Broncos hope to avoid deja vu in playoffs

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 with Elvis

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.

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