Reflecting on the 9 Defining Moments of the Denver Broncos' 2013 Regular Season
Playoff bound for the third time in three years, the Denver Broncos have only one goal in mind. Since the team arrived for minicamps in May, they have been solely focused on winning the Super Bowl.
Through a season of highs (and not many lows), the Broncos looked sharp most of the year. Broncos fans were treated to a thrill ride we don’t normally see in the NFL.
For the third year in a row, the Broncos secured the AFC West title. For the second year in a row, the team finished as the top seed in the AFC Conference.
Watching the Broncos in 2013 was a lot like watching a video game. They were the Madden All Stars, and the rest of the league was on “rookie” mode.
Here are nine of Denver’s defining moments from the 2013 season.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand. Records and statistical information are provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Manning Throws Seven Touchdowns Against the Ravens
It didn't take long for the Broncos to show what they could do. They opened up the season by playing the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Some saw this as a "revenge" game because it was the Ravens who knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs in 2012.
The Broncos certainly treated it like that type of game, and they were relentless against the Ravens.
Manning became only the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for seven touchdowns and zero interceptions in a single game.
It was a fantastic start to the season for Manning, and it was a performance that foreshadowed what was coming from the future Hall of Fame quarterback.
Julius Thomas Emerges
Julius Thomas was a standout player when I watched him during the week of practice at the 2011 Shrine Game. He impressed me so much that I wrote about him as a sleeper tight end at the 2011 Scouting Combine.
Thomas was picked in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL draft by the Denver Broncos. They were impressed by his basketball skill set, and I was thrilled to see him land in Denver.
An ankle injury suffered early in his rookie season essentially knocked him out for two years. He was finally healthy at the end of the 2012 season. I remember chatting with Broncos head coach John Fox on the sidelines during practice in Week 17 last year. Thomas made a great play near the sidelines, so Fox turned to me and said, "Looks like my man Jules is back!"
Thomas was a favorite of the coaching staff, but didn't get to strut his stuff until this season. He emerged as one of the best young tight ends in the game today, and Thomas was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
In Week 1 against the Ravens, Thomas had two second-quarter touchdown catches that immediately put him on the map. He didn't slow down the rest of the season as a favorite target of Peyton Manning.
Thomas only played in 14 games this year, and he missed two due to a minor knee injury. He was still able to compile 65 catches, 788 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Ryan Clady Is Lost for the Year
The Broncos have had to face a ton of adversity this season. They were happy to sign Clady to a new long-term deal before the start of the regular season. Clady is one of the best left tackles in the game today, and his presence is incredibly important for protecting Peyton Manning's blind side.
Instead, the Broncos turned to Chris Clark to take over on the left side. Clark had spent most of the offseason as the starter while Clady recovered from a pectoral injury.
The Broncos have missed Clady in a few games where Clark has struggled with elite edge rushers. However, Clark has mostly played strong week in and week out.
Each One of Their Three Losses
For the second year in a row, the Broncos finished with a 13-3 record. In each one of their three losses, the team has learned about flaws they need to fix.
Their first loss was against the Colts in Week 7. Emotions ran high for Peyton Manning as he returned to Indianapolis to face his old team.
The Broncos struggled against the pass rush of the Colts, and Robert Mathis was able to get the best of Chris Clark most of the game. Denver may have to face the Colts again in the playoffs (this time in Denver), and they should have a better plan for pass protection.
Their second loss of the season came on the road against the Patriots in Week 12. Knowshon Moreno rushed for over 200 yards against the Patriots, but the Broncos surrendered a 24-point lead in the loss.
Denver may have to face the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game in a few weeks. They'll know how to better hold onto the lead. The Broncos should use more of the passing game to keep the throttle open against a team capable of making a comeback like the Patriots.
Their final loss of the season came in Week 15 against division rival, the San Diego Chargers. In both games against the Chargers, the Broncos barely had the ball more than 20 minutes in each game. The Chargers played them close in both games, and they were able to get a win in the second contest.
The Broncos may have to face the Chargers in the playoffs as well. They'll be ready for the ball control offense as the Chargers try to play "defense" by essentially keeping Manning on the sidelines.
Knowshon Moreno Plays Up to His Potential
Knowshon Moreno was a first-round pick by the Broncos in the 2009 NFL draft. The team had high hopes for the Georgia running back, and he was expected to be the next great Broncos back.
Four years passed, and Moreno had been set back by injuries and inconsistencies. He had flashed quality starting ability, but he had never put it all together for a complete season.
That all changed in 2013. Moreno finally rushed for over 1,000 yards this year. He also became the first Broncos back to rush for more than 1,000 yards and have over 500 yards receiving.
I've often called Moreno the heart and soul of the Broncos offense. It's not necessarily his production level. In fact, Moreno has only one game this season where he rushed for 100 yards or more.
It's Moreno's aggression that makes him such an integral part of what they do. Moreno has a ton of attitude, and he takes no prisoners when he runs the ball. This type of intimidation gives the Broncos offense a toughness they don't have without him.
John Fox Has Heart Surgery
The Broncos had to overcome a health scare during their bye week. Head coach John Fox suffered heart problems while playing golf and had to have open-heart surgery on November 4th.
During the next four weeks, the team had to turn to Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio as their interim head coach. Del Rio was a fine selection as he had plenty of experience from his days as head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Fox was missed by everyone around the team. His spirit and enthusiasm is infectious throughout the building.
It was great to see Fox back after only four weeks missed. Del Rio was 3-1 leading the team while Fox was out, and his leadership was vital for the team during this critical juncture.
Beating Kansas City Twice
The Broncos finished as the top team in the AFC West, but they weren't on top the entire season. The Kansas City Chiefs began the season 9-0, but suffered their first loss of the season when they played the Broncos in Week 11.
The Chiefs have a tough defense, but they struggled to stop Peyton Manning. They entered the first game against the Broncos with more sacks than any other team in the league. The Chiefs failed to sack Manning in two games this season.
The Broncos proved they are the dominant team in the AFC West more than once.
Beating the Chiefs twice was incredibly important for the Broncos to not only prove their dominance, but also to secure a better seeding for the postseason.
Matt Prater's Record-Setting 64-Yard Field Goal
Matt Prater is one of the best kickers in the game today. The Broncos have an advantage kicking in the thin air of Denver, so there was no hesitation when Prater lined up to kick an NFL-record 64-yard field goal against the Titans.
Prater knocked the kick through, and he set a new mark for others to look up to. He finished the season with his first 50-yard kick in Oakland when the Broncos played the Raiders in Week 17.
Prater is now 21-27 on kicks over 50 yards during his NFL career. However, only seven of those made kicks have come away from Denver.
With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the Broncos may use Prater to knock in more long-distance kicks to secure victory and advance in the postseason.
Breaking the Single-Season Record for Touchdown Passes
Perhaps the moment most Broncos fans will remember is the four-touchdown performance Peyton Manning had against the Houston Texans in Week 16. The Broncos didn't get much resistance from the Texans that week even though Houston came into the week as the 2nd-ranked pass defense in the league.
That week Manning set a new mark for touchdown passes in a single season.
Manning had three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to surpass the old mark of 50 touchdown passes set by Tom Brady (Patriots) in 2007.
His final touchdown pass of the day went to tight end Julius Thomas, and that throw gave him 51 on the season.
Manning added four more to the record against the Raiders in Week 17. His new record of 55 touchdown passes in a single season may be able to stand for a while.