The Denver Broncos' magical 2011-2012 season came to a close in New England in a very unceremonious fashion on Saturday night.
The New England Patriots proved to be a huge buzz-saw that Denver had the misfortune of running into twice this season.
In the second meeting the Broncos were even more undermanned and overmatched by a team looking to prove a lot of doubters wrong, dropping a 45-10 decision.
The surprising thing about the game is not that the Patriots offense made the stout Broncos defense look so bad, but rather that the Denver offense made the Patriots defense look so good. Admittedly, the Broncos offense has had performances like this before, but New England's ability to pressure Tebow made their defensive line look more like the Giants.
Here are some of the final things we learned about Denver at the conclusion or this successful season.
The No. 1 thing on the Broncos' free-agent wish list next year needs to be help at the safety position.
It seems likely that Brian Dawkins has played his last NFL game, and so it is obvious that Denver will need to replace him, but the immediate replacement is not on the roster yet.
Denver's lack of secondary depth made them look like the 8-8 team that everyone thought they were coming into the playoffs and allowed Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski to set records.
The Broncos already invested in the future at safety through the draft with Carter and Moore, but the time has come to invest in the now in order to give both players support and time to grow.
Gronkowski's touchdown that probably hit the ground, Branch's push off and others are examples of plays where the better team gets the benefit of the doubt.
Neither of those plays might have changed the outcome of the game, but it certainly caused the hole the Broncos fell in to materialize a lot more quickly.
Denver has a long way to go and many games to win before their star power and league wide presence nets them the same kind of treatment.
Tom Brady just led a clinic on how to go out and win a game for his team. Tebow's fumble may have been the moment where the damn sprung a leak, but it was not as big a turning point as some may have made it out to be.
That play was simply the proof that Tebow was going to have a normal Tim Tebow game and not one like the performance he authored against the Steelers. Poor protection from the line, slow decision making from Tebow and many other things are to blame for this.
The bottom line is that Tom Brady showed the form that earned him league wide respect, and Tebow failed to deliver the kind of game that got Denver into the second round.
Even if he had, it may not have been enough against Brady and the Pats.
The Broncos proved last week that they could legitimately beat a good team in Pittsburgh. The difference that became apparent between New England and the Steelers though is that New England took Denver seriously and Pittsburgh didn't.
Pittsburgh refused to give Denver enough respect to even alter their game plan and paid the ultimate price for that. New England, on the other hand, made the necessary adjustments and exposed Denver as the young team who was cruising on momentum and heart.
Neither of those things alone are the ingredients for a Super Bowl run. However, the experience for the Broncos is invaluable and if they are able to put themselves in this position again, they will be more prepared to handle quality opponents like the Patriots.