The Denver Broncos have experienced some great moments, and the wild ride of 2011 is up there with the best moments in the franchise's proud history.
Quarterback Tim Tebow buckled fans' seat belts and took them on an unforgettable journey into the playoffs. The Broncos didn't have a great chance of winning the Super Bowl, and the New England Patriots ended Denver's slim hopes of that happening by demolishing the Broncos in the divisional round of the playoffs.
However, in the Wild Card round, the Broncos took down the Pittsburgh Steelers in overtime. Tebow, who has been criticized for his accuracy (or lack thereof), delivered a beautiful pass over the middle to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
Thomas then sprinted into the end zone to complete the 80-yard touchdown that sent the city of Denver into a frenzy.
Tebow illuminated the city with his heroics, but the Broncos still decided to look for a more consistent option at quarterback. General manager and former quarterback John Elway won two Super Bowls in Denver and did it by picking apart defenses through the air, which is something Tebow didn't do.
Elway sought after four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning, who has piled up numerous accolades throughout his illustrious career. Unlike Tebow, who completed a mere 46.5 percent of his passes and finished 28th in passer rating in 2011, Manning has always been able to efficiently move the ball though the air.
Even though Manning missed the 2011 season with a neck injury, Elway decided to go all-in and pursue the former Indianapolis Colt. He offered Manning a total of $96 million over five years, and Manning opted to sign with the Broncos.
That led to the departure of the erratic Tebow, who has yet to find another starting job in the NFL. And, so far, it has led to huge changes and success in Denver.
Sure, the Broncos didn't get past the divisional round in the 2013 NFL playoffs. However, they won 13 games in the regular season, which easily topped their 8-8 mark in 2011. Denver won the AFC West for the second consecutive year, and it steamrolled a multitude of teams en route to an 11-game winning streak.
The 2012 season ended in heartbreak, as the Baltimore Ravens shocked the Broncos with a last-second touchdown pass in a double-overtime win. However, because of Manning, Broncos fans have plenty of reason for optimism for the 2013 season and for the future.
Even though Tebow is exciting to watch and has a knack for coming through down the stretch, he will never be a top-tier NFL quarterback. Manning, on the other hand, has asserted himself as one of the NFL's greats, and he is still performing at an astoundingly high level.
In 2012, Manning finished second in MVP voting. He compiled 37 touchdown passes and was intercepted just 11 times, and he piled up 4,659 passing yards.
Manning's 105.8 passer rating ranked second in the NFL, and he led the league in yards per attempt (7.99) and completion percentage (68.6 percent). Tebow, who likely would have started in 2012 had the Broncos not signed Manning, will never put up those gaudy numbers.
If the Broncos didn't sign Manning and decided to hand the reins to backup Brock Osweiler, they obviously wouldn't have received the same production from the passing game, and they wouldn't have received the same production from their receivers.
Thomas and Eric Decker broke onto the scene with Manning, which they couldn't do with Tebow and wouldn't have done with any other quarterback. Tebow has never been able to consistently throw catchable passes, but Manning can consistently fit footballs into tight portals.
Decker led the AFC with 13 touchdown receptions and topped 1,000 receiving yards as well. Thomas finished fourth in the NFL with 1,434 receiving yards and caught 10 touchdown passes, and Manning didn't throw a single interception when targeting Thomas.
While Thomas and Decker both improved in their third seasons, they never would have put up the numbers they did if Tebow was still around. Manning helped Decker and Thomas grow remarkably, and he will continue to do so.
Manning has always been known for bringing the best out of his teammates, and he has certainly done that with his two top targets. Manning works quickly and demands that his teammates put in work and keep up with him, which helps the offense come game time.
Thomas and Decker have kept up with Manning. As a result, defenses are having trouble keeping up with Denver's top-notch aerial attack.
Manning's work ethic has helped the team in many ways, and his success has also helped. Because of Denver's 13-win season, free agents flocked to Denver in the 2013 offseason. Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Louis Vasquez, Shaun Phillips and others came to Denver this offseason.
While it added talented players, Denver didn't sign any free agent to a deal averaging more than $6 million annually. That means decent players were willing to come to Denver on inexpensive contracts. Part of the reason why is because Denver has a great chance at making deep playoff runs in the future.
And that's because of Manning.
Not many can match Manning's superb production on the field, and it's hard to match his work ethic as well. However, Manning has helped in other ways, including team chemistry.
If Tebow were still manning the offense, problems in the locker room likely would have come into play. Decker and Thomas are talented receivers, and they both command the ball often. The Broncos were a run-first team with Tebow, and Tebow completed a paucity of passes.
In fact, Tebow completed more than half of his passes in just two of his 14 games (in 2011). In one game, Tebow completed two passes. That can definitely cause turmoil in the clubhouse.
While there is some concern about how the targets will be shared between Welker, Thomas and Decker, it's virtually guaranteed that the Broncos will throw often. Manning was able to share the ball with receivers Reggie Wayne and Marvin Harrison in Indianapolis, and he can do the same thing with his top wideouts in the Mile High City.
Manning is spearheading a lethal offense, one that scored fewer than 20 points once and scored 30 or more points a mind-blowing 11 times in 2012. He has instilled hope in the minds of every Broncos fan, and he has made the team better in multiple ways.
Denver's offense was inconsistent at best with Tebow, who led the Broncos to 30 or more points in just two of his 14 games (13 starts) in 2011. Tebow has always been a fun player to watch, but he isn't someone who can lead a team deep into the playoffs consistently.
Manning, on the other hand, hasn't missed the playoffs since 2001 (not including his neck injury). He has Broncos fans thinking positively about the future and the present, as the Broncos are in great shape. Manning has a solid supporting cast, but Denver is a powerhouse because of Manning.
Manning has taken the team on his back and carried it to success, and he'll continue to do that. And as he does, Broncos fans will thank Elway for picking up the four-time MVP and eventual two-time Super Bowl champion.
Because if Elway didn't get Manning, Denver wouldn't be able to do much this year and would have a murky future.
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