Following the Denver Broncos' 43-8 demolition at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, Peyton Manning had a simple and direct message to his team in the aftermath of the third-worst loss in Super Bowl history, via Sean Gregory of Time Sports:
“I think this team used last year’s playoff loss to fuel us. I thought it made us a better team this year. Hopefully, we can use this to fuel us this off-season into next season as well.”
If the Broncos hope to win their first Lombardi Trophy in the Manning era, they'll have to use this loss as motivation going into next season. As Manning referenced in that quote, the Broncos used the playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens during the 2012-13 season as motivation in nearly winning the third Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
That dream fell short last week in a game that was over from the very beginning—on the first offensive snap of the game, the Broncos gave up a safety. Denver trailed for the remaining 59 minutes, 48 seconds of the game.
As tough as it was to swallow such an ending to a great season, the Broncos' run at a Lombardi Trophy is not over yet. As long as Manning passes his physical exam in March, the Broncos' five-time MVP will be back in 2014.
As long as No. 18 is taking snaps under center, the Broncos will be a Super Bowl contender. Following Denver's loss, Vegas placed the Broncos as one of the top three teams favored to win the Super Bowl next season.
The Seahawks were simply the better team this year. They were younger, faster and hungrier than the Broncos. The Broncos will have the opportunity to be that very team next season.
Lost in all of the hoopla over the Broncos' embarrassing loss to the Seahawks is the fact that the Broncos were missing several key players going into Super Bowl XLVIII.
No, this is not taking away from the Seahawks victory over the Broncos. They were the better team. But the fact that the Broncos advanced to the big game without so many key players is an accomplishment in itself.
Denver's best defensive player, linebacker Von Miller, missed the first six games of the regular season and the entire postseason.
Can you imagine what type of difference Miller would have made as Denver's biggest playmaker on defense during the postseason stretch?
Ryan Clady, the franchise left tackle, missed all but two games this season. Having Clady instead of Chris Clark in there would have made a huge difference as far as pressure on Manning.
The Broncos were also missing starting cornerback Chris Harris, starting defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, starting free safety Rahim Moore and starting defensive end Derek Wolfe.
Miller, Clady, Harris, Moore and Wolfe are all young guys; their collective average age is 24.2 years.
|DE Derek Wolfe||23|
|FS Rahim Moore||23|
|CB Chris Harris||24|
|LB Von Miller||24|
|LT Ryan Clady||27|
What has been lost in the aftermath of the Broncos' loss in Super Bowl XLVIII is that this team overachieved due to the great play of Manning and a weak AFC conference. The 2013 Broncos squad advanced to the Super Bowl in spite of the absence of their best offensive lineman and their best defensive player.
You don't think with those young guys back next year, it won't make a difference in games versus a team like the Seahawks?
What the media has talked about in the week after the Super Bowl is Manning's legacy and how it has been damaged to no repair since the 43-8 loss to the Seahawks last Sunday. The media has focused on the Broncos' key free agents, such as Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, and how the Broncos will let them walk or not be able to re-sign them.
That couldn't be further from the truth.
The Broncos will be back next year and healthier than they were in 2013. Broncos Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway needs to add more depth to the team and has to add younger playmakers to the defensive side of the ball.
The team can't rely on Manning to throw for another 55 touchdown passes in 2014 to carry the team to the Super Bowl.
As Elway said in the season-ending news conference, according to the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com):
The goal has not changed and it will not change. We will use this as an experience that we went through, be disappointed that we didn't play better, but the bottom line is this organization and what [team owner] Pat Bowlen wants from this organization -- that has not changed and it will not change.
The bottom line is we're going to work as hard as we worked this year, if not harder, and continue to do that with the mindset that we want to be world champions and we're going to do everything we can to get there.
There will continue to be questions and doubters until the Broncos win a Lombardi Trophy with Manning at quarterback. Manning will have to play better when it counts. It's as simple as that. Excuses can continue to be made about the lack of support from his supporting cast, but Manning looked lost versus the Seahawks defense. A five-time MVP quarterback like Manning should have adjusted and played better as the game progressed.
That obviously did not happen.
The Broncos' 22nd-ranked defense from 2013 will continue to be cited as the Achilles' heel of the team until they can prove otherwise. Having guys like Wolfe, Miller, Vickerson and Moore back will improve the defense, along with the hopeful re-signing of Harris.
The 2013 season ended in humiliating fashion. No one expected the Broncos to lose the way they did. In fact, Denver was favored by Bovada to hoist the Lombardi Trophy entering the game.
But what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
This is a battle-tested Broncos team that have endured so much in two years since Manning arrived in Denver.
Although the adversity and criticism will be at its apex in 2014, there will be no better time than next season for the Broncos to prove everyone wrong.
It is up to the Broncos to use this loss as motivation toward a Lombardi Trophy in 2015.