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Broncos make history to get second chance

12/29/2013
Peyton Manning set another record Sunday, but this team will be measured by the playoffs. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

ALAMEDA, Calif. -- For two years, Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler has watched history unfold right next to him in the meeting room and on the practice field.

Sunday was the latest example.

"The season moves so fast and there's so much going on, when the offseason hits and I turn on 'SportsCenter,' NFL Network, I think then it will really hit me what this team accomplished, what Peyton [Manning] accomplished," Osweiler said. "But there's no question I've had a front-row seat to everything, a front-row seat to amazing things, to history. And it will help me immensely as a player, but as a person you're just proud to be around it."

Osweiler threw all of 16 passes this season as Manning's backup, 13 of those Sunday in a 34-14 win over the Oakland Raiders. Osweiler and the Broncos watched Manning close out the regular season Sunday by giving an awfully good show.

The short list of remember when stuff basically starts with the Broncos epic pile of points.

Their day against the Raiders made the Broncos the highest-scoring team in league history, having also cracked the 600-point barrier at 606. Manning set a single-season record for passing yards (5,477) despite not playing after halftime against the Raiders. And the Broncos also set a record for touchdowns in a season with 76.

The Broncos had every incentive to crank things up early Sunday, as they would get home-field advantage with a win. Securing a big early lead would allow them to rest some players heading into the postseason. They came out with their foot firmly planted to the floorboard against the Raiders.

The Broncos scored on all five of their first-half possessions, four of those touchdown passes from Manning. So while Houston Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips may have challenged touchdown No. 50, Manning left no doubt about Nos. 52-55, the first coming before the haze from the pregame tailgates had even cleared.

Manning showed his command in a historical offense by attacking all areas of the field. He flashed the post-surgical power that remains in his right arm with a right-on-the-screws effort that resulted in a 63-yard catch-and-run touchdown to Demaryius Thomas that made it 24-0 with 5 minutes, 37 second still remaining in the first half.

"I think the whole team wanted to come out and set that tone early, show that focus, show that ability to close the deal," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "We did it on defense, we were aggressive all over and Peyton was at that level where he is just who he is."

"It was nice to get the lead in this game, get off to a hot start," Manning said. "[Demaryius Thomas'] long play was important, set the tone for the day in my opinion."

When Manning's day was done by halftime -- "it was Coach's decision to make the change" -- he already had four touchdowns and was 25-of-28 for 266 yards, giving him 5,477 for the season, or one more yard than former single-season record holder Drew Brees had in 2011. It was Manning's ninth game of the season with at least four touchdowns. The Broncos finished the regular season with five players who caught at least 60 passes and five players who scored at least 10 touchdowns.

And so the Broncos return to the playoffs, where they suffered perhaps the most crushing defeat in the franchise's history last season.

They finished 13-3 in 2012 and had the AFC's top seed when they lost in double overtime to the Baltimore Ravens on bitterly cold evening last January. And since that loss -- through off-the-field issues that included DUI arrests for front-office personnel and Von Miller's suspension, through injuries and a four-week leave of absence for head coach John Fox after open-heart surgery -- they have remained relentless in their pursuit of another chance.

"Just really good focus on the players' part," Manning said. "We've had a number of distractions, injuries, on-field situation, off-field situations, but I think the one constant has been the players' focus. We have remained focused on the task at hand. … A season unlike any other for me."

Bailey was asked about the trek back to 13-3, the playoff bye week and the home-field advantage that came with it. He was asked if it would indeed be an advantage this time.

"If we use it wisely," Bailey said. "Hopefully we give them a better showing than we did last year. We're very aware of playing that first game not ready, we're going to be ready. … We know we've got to be prepared, no such thing as over-preparing."

There's also no such thing as a one-trick pony winning the Super Bowl, either. History has been least kind to the offensive showpieces that have made the Big Game.

The Broncos hold the single-season scoring record and the four teams that sit immediately behind them on the list didn't win the Super Bowl. The highest-scoring Super Bowl winner was the 1999 St. Louis Rams, who checked in with 526 points that season, or roughly what the Broncos had after Week 15. The other teams to have topped 500 points and also won the Super Bowl are the 2009 Saints (510 points), the 1994 49ers (505 points) and the 1998 Broncos (501).

That's it.

Granted, those high-flying affairs weren't fueled by the kind of disappointment the Broncos have lived with for most of the past 12 months. That was crystal clear Sunday as the Broncos prepared to load the bus for the airport. While they were happy with what they've done, they are ready to get down to real business.

They still must file the rough edges off their defense. They need to find more in their pass rush and they need to expand their running game. They need a Plan B if their record-setting passer and the highest-scoring offense in league history meet up with cold day and a hot defense in the postseason.

"It's not easy to go back-to-back 13-3s, not easy to go back-to-back one seeds, but obviously everybody in our building, our city, our region, maybe the country was disappointed in how we finished a year ago," Fox said. "Hopefully that set a fire in the belly of most everybody in our building since last January."

"We're in a great situation, we did some great things, but now it's all about the playoffs," Demaryius Thomas said. "We don't want the same thing as last year."