Denver Broncos Desperate for First-Round Bye After MNF Collapse

Cecil Lammey@@cecillammeyContributor IDecember 23, 2014

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning passes against the Cincinnati Bengals during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Dec. 22, 2014, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

The Denver Broncos had a chance to secure the second seed in the AFC with a win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16. Instead of coming out victorious in a second-half downpour, the Broncos lost to the Bengals 37-28.

Broncos head coach John Fox doesn’t think weather played a factor in the loss.

“We were behind 20-7 heading into the half. We came out and scored on three straight possessions, but then we had a few turnovers. The kicking game—as far as coverage—kind of broke down. I think we gave up nearly 200 return yards, which didn’t help our cause. We didn’t play well enough in all three phases.” Fox concluded, “They busted off a big run early, and when you play a good football team, especially this time of year, you have to play better.”

This loss means they lost any chance to win the No. 1 overall seed. The Broncos will go into the playoffs without home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time in the Peyton Manning era.

The road to the Super Bowl will go through the New England Patriots in Foxborough, MA.

Denver now must beat the Oakland Raiders in Week 17 in order to head into the playoffs as the second seed in the conference. Getting a bye week is critical for this team if they want to advance to the Super Bowl again.

The Broncos are desperate for a first-round bye after collapsing against the Bengals on Monday Night Football.

Injuries

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 7:  Outside linebacker Brandon Marshall #54 of the Denver Broncos celebrates his third quarter interception against the Buffalo Bills at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on December 7, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos d
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

The Broncos have worked through several injuries late this season. They’ve already lost key starters like Nate Irving and Danny Trevathan for the year, but other players are fighting to get back from injury.

Running back Ronnie Hillman has missed the last six games due to a foot sprain he suffered in Week 10 against the Raiders. He should be able to play in Week 17, and his speed will give the offense another asset to utilize. Hillman can be dangerous in space as a receiver out of the backfield, and he will play as a change-of-pace back behind starter C.J. Anderson.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall is dealing with a foot injury as well. Marshall has done a fantastic job for the Broncos this year, and he’s standing out as both a run-defender and in coverage. He may not be able to play in Week 17 against the Raiders, but Marshall should be ready by the start of the playoffs. Getting him an extra week of rest with a bye would only help.

They had an early bye week in 2014 (Week 4), and the Broncos have been trying to get as much rest as possible over the last month of the season.

Just this week, Denver had 10 players who were either limited or did not participate in practice.

Key players like wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (illness) and left tackle Ryan Clady (thigh) missed valuable practice time before the Bengals game.

Manning suffered through flu-like symptoms against the San Diego Chargers in Week 15, and it led to a thigh injury that kept him limited throughout the week of practice for Week 16.

When asked if he was healthy after the Bengals game, Manning succinctly answered “Yes.”

Manning may feel that he’s healthy, but his arm looked tired on certain throws against the Bengals. It would be great to get him some rest before the team tries to make their way through the postseason.

Manning’s Playoff Record

Peyton Manning Playoff Record
YearWin/Loss1st Round Bye
19990-1yes
20000-1no
20020-1no
20032-1no
20041-1yes
20050-1yes
20064-0no
20070-1yes
20080-1no
20092-1yes
20100-1no
20120-1yes
20132-1yes
Pro-Football-Reference.com

Manning didn’t pull any punches when talking about his performance against the Bengals.

“It wasn’t good. With four interceptions, you’re not going to beat many good football teams. We did some good things in the third quarter. We gave ourselves a chance and we had the lead in the fourth. The field position wasn’t very good, and we couldn’t flip it. Of course, turning it over at the end for the touchdown put them up two scores.” Manning said, “That’s definitely a throw you can’t make in that situation.”

Manning’s legacy is on the line. With another Super Bowl win, Manning will go down as arguably the best quarterback of all time. With another early playoff exit, Manning will go down as one of the best—but one who struggled in the postseason.

Avoiding 13-3

ED ANDRIESKI/Associated Press

Broncos fans can see a silver lining in the loss to the Bengals—at least Denver won’t finish 13-3. That record has not been kind to the Broncos in the past.

When the team finished 13-3 in 1996, the Broncos lost in their first playoff game against an upstart Jacksonville Jaguars.

In the first year of the Manning era, the Broncos finished 13-3 again in 2012. Like the 1996 team, Denver lost in their first playoff game—in the divisional round—but this time it was the Baltimore Ravens that ended Denver’s Super Bowl dreams.

In 2013, the Broncos finished with a 13-3 record as well. They made it all the way to the Super Bowl, but the team was humiliated 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks.

That mark of 13-3 is one superstitious Broncos fans would rather avoid. With a win against the Raiders in Week 17, the Broncos would finish 12-4.

In order to secure the second seed in the AFC playoffs, Manning knows the team must bounce back with a better performance against the Raiders in Week 17.

“Well, we have to. We have no choice. We have to find a way to learn from this and correct the mistakes throughout and find a way to play better next week and try to get a win against a division team. That’s all you can do.” Manning emphasized, “We have another opportunity next week and that’s all we can do is put this one behind us after we learn from it and try to get a win next week.”

Starting cornerback Chris Harris knows the Raiders will be fired up to play the Broncos in the final regular-season game.

“Oh yeah. It’s a rivalry game versus the Raiders. We want to finish off strong. We know that they’re going to try to come in and spoil our run right now—try to take us from getting a first-round bye.” Harris said, “We know we still have a chance to get that, so we know that this game is huge.”

Summary

The Broncos need some extra rest before they make their playoff push in 2014.

Fox summed up the plan for the Broncos. “I told the guys a long time ago that it really doesn’t matter where you start, but where you finish. We had a setback tonight that we’ll learn from. We’ll go home and get ready for the Raiders next week.”

They will get a chance to lick their wounds and build some momentum with a home win over the Raiders in Week 17.

Some teams are successful rolling through the playoffs without a break or a bye. The Broncos are beat up right now and need some time off to get near full strength before the postseason begins.

Simply put, they need this bye week more than ever before.

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record/statistical information provided via email from the Denver Broncos unless otherwise noted. Contract and salary-cap information provided by Spotrac. Transaction history provided by ProSportsTransactions.com.

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