ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For former players and long-time fans alike, there's often a question mark that hangs over the 2005 Denver Broncos.
Former cornerback Champ Bailey routinely called the ’05 season the “Super Bowl that got away, it took a long time to get that edge back." It was the year the Broncos finished 13-3, had the AFC’s top seed -- the Indianapolis Colts, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, were already knocked out of the postseason -- but lost the AFC Championship Game, at home, to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After that season, the Broncos did not return to the playoffs until 2011 as the team fired coach Mike Shanahan and then coach Josh McDaniels along the way.
But this past week former Broncos safety John Lynch offered his own theory on what happened to the team’s on-field performance in the seasons that followed that loss to the Steelers. Lynch said when Gary Kubiak was hired as Houston Texans coach, it changed everything with the Broncos.
“I believe that, I really do," Lynch said. “ … It’s why I’m excited to see [Kubiak] back, he’s good for the organization and this is a good situation for him too."
Lynch made his remarks this week following a luncheon where his foundation handed out college scholarship money as well as other awards to Denver-area high school and middle school students who had achieved both in the classroom on the field. Kubiak and Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway spoke at the luncheon. And Kubiak’s appearance had Lynch looking back on his own time with the Broncos as well.
Kubiak, who was the Broncos offensive coordinator for 11 years on Shanahan’s staff, was hired by the Texans shortly after the Broncos’ playoff exit in 2005.
“I was here, I lived it," Lynch said. “First of all there was kind of that relationship with [quarterback] Jake [Plummer] that kind of fell apart after that. I think probably more importantly than that … Gary is a tremendous offensive mind. Mike [Shanahan] had a lot of trust in him. When he left I don’t think we were the same team."
Lynch's theory on Kubiak is one that has been echoed by Plummer, who said shortly after Kubiak was hired by the Broncos in January that "I have no doubt my career would have ended a little differently if Kubes had stayed ... I was crushed when he left, man, and I think a lot of guys felt that way."
The Broncos went 9-7 in 2006, 7-9 in ’07 and 8-8 in ’08; Shanahan was then fired. They followed with an 8-8 finish in 2009 and a 4-12 record in 2010.
Plummer had been benched 11 games into the ’06 season -- the Broncos were 7-4 at the time -- and Jay Cutler was put into the lineup. The Broncos went 2-3 down the stretch with the then-rookie Cutler behind center and missed the playoffs.
Lynch’s last full season with the Broncos was 2007 and he was granted his release early in training camp in 2008.
“I just felt like, and looking back I'll always feel like we were never quite the same after Gary left," Lynch said. “I think Mike didn’t feel the same, have the same confidence in how we were doing things. I think Gary was just, beyond what a great football mind, was somebody who just knew how to help push a team along."