AFC West: Super Bowl XLVIII

Broncos DejectionJeff Gross/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning and the Broncos never found a way to recover from their early mistakes.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- No rain. No snow. No wind.

And, to the credit of the Denver Broncos -- after the historic all-phases-of-the-game unraveling in Super Bowl XLVIII -- no excuses.

"Time heals all things," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "But I definitely didn't expect this type of performance from our team. This is so far away from what we showed all year. … Very disappointed."

And very surprised. And very stunned.

The Broncos left MetLife Stadium as all of the above Sunday night after a 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in a championship game that was seemingly never in doubt. And the question about what would matter most, the No. 1 offense or the No. 1 defense, got a resounding answer played out to a worldwide audience.

It was the fourth time in the Super Bowl era the league's No. 1 offense scored 14 or fewer points in the title game and the second time in the past seven seasons a team that set the single-season scoring record flamed out in the Super Bowl because it couldn't find the end zone enough -- the New England Patriots to close out the 2007 season and the Broncos on Sunday night.

When it was all said and done, the scattered pieces of the Broncos' hopes and dreams instead constituted the third-largest deficit in a Super Bowl. The franchise holds two of the top three spots on that list.

"Just didn't play like we're capable of. It's disappointing. We had a great year," said John Elway, Broncos executive vice president of football operations. "And, hopefully, we learn from this. [It] started tough and just couldn't seem to get it going."

It started tough, indeed. And beyond the Broncos' four turnovers, beyond the missed tackles and beyond a meltdown to open the second half on special teams, perhaps the most disconcerting thing about the loss was when the first domino of despair fell, they did not respond.

They did not pick themselves up. They did not dust themselves off. They did not show to be the team that had traveled over so much rocky road on its way to the Super Bowl. Especially troubling Sunday was the fact that first domino got tipped over on the first play from scrimmage.

Center Manny Ramirez and quarterback Peyton Manning were not only not on the same page, they weren't even in the same book. On first-and-10 from the Broncos' 14-yard line, with the crowd still in a full froth of anticipation, Manning moved up to the line of scrimmage to change the play as Ramirez snapped the ball past the quarterback's head.

"I was trying to make a change … just overall, it's nobody's fault. It's not Manny's fault," Manning said.

"It's just hard to have something like that happen at the beginning of the game," Ramirez said. "It was real loud and we were planning on going into the game with the cadence. None of us heard the snap count. I thought I did when I snapped it."

Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno chased the ball down to prevent a touchdown but was tackled in the end zone for a safety. The Broncos' defense dug in enough after the Seahawks got the free kick to hold Seattle to a field goal on the next drive, and a 5-0 deficit still looked to be more of an oddity than insurmountable.

But that's when the Broncos didn't answer. All season long their biggest troubles came when they had no Plan B for an offensive night gone bad, and that was only magnified in a game with the two teams left standing.

They punted on their next possession -- a three-and-out. Manning tossed an interception on the Broncos' third possession. Defensive end Cliff Avril hit Manning's right arm on the fourth possession and linebacker Malcolm Smith intercepted the pass and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.

By the time the Broncos had run 22 plays on offense -- usually worth three touchdowns much of the season -- the misery reflected on the scoreboard at Seahawks 22, Broncos 0.

"Just got to figure out a way to get things turned around," Elway said. "But I'll tell you this: It's hard to get momentum turned around against a great defense like this and they are a great defense, and that's why you can't afford to lose momentum, because to try to flip it against a great defense, it's hard."

The Seahawks defense played with discipline, tackled well and consistently won at the line of scrimmage. It will be easy to evaluate how the Broncos lost their containment on special teams at the worst time when Percy Harvin took the second half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown.

But the big question to be answered is why the Broncos' offense couldn't answer, didn't answer. Certainly, having a Pro Bowl left tackle on injured reserve most of the season in Ryan Clady is one of the items on the list.

No, in the end, the Broncos' injury-ravaged defense played with grit early when things were still in doubt, the Broncos' preparation went well and they got a spring night in February to play for the trophy.

And even with all of that, they still left empty-handed having scored just one touchdown on a night when their offense got dominated. Even with a future Hall of Famer at quarterback and five players who scored at least 10 touchdowns this season, they did not find a way to push back.

"We sucked the energy out of them," Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner. "We loved hearing about the Denver offense because we felt like after the game we were going to hear a lot about our defense."

"To me, the answer is Seattle is that good on defense and really did a good job," Elway said. "They're relentless. They get after it. The bottom line is you have to give them a lot of credit. We made some mistakes, but they played great. It's hard to switch momentum against a great defense like this. … We had some chances to get back into it, we just couldn't get it done."

 
videoEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Following a 43-8 loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning reaffirmed his intent to return for the 2014 season.

Manning opened Super Bowl week in New Jersey last Sunday night by saying his intent was to continue playing. Following Sunday night’s game, Manning was asked if the loss made it more likely he would come back for the 2014 season.

"I addressed those [questions] all week long," Manning said. "It doesn’t change anything on those ends as far as what I want to do."

Just after the team arrived a week ago, Manning made his strongest comments about returning. Just after the team arrived at its hotel from the airport, Manning was asked if he had given any thought to the Super Bowl being his last game.

"I certainly had a career change two years ago with my injury, with changing teams, so I've truly have been a one-year-at-a-time basis, so I really have no plans beyond this game," Manning said. "I had no plans coming into this season beyond this year. I think that’s kind [of] a healthy way to approach your career at this stage. I still enjoy playing football. I feel a little better than I thought I would at this point coming off that surgery. I still enjoy the preparation part of it, the work part of it. Everybody enjoys the game, everybody’s excited to play in a Super Bowl, but I think when you still enjoy the preparation, the work part of it, I think you still ought to be doing that. I think as soon as I stop enjoying it, if I can’t do this, if I can’t help the team, that’s when I stop playing. If that’s next year, and maybe it is, but I certainly want to continue to keep playing."

It is the premise Broncos team officials have been operating off of as well. The Broncos have to believe Manning's status for 2014 did not depend on the Super Bowl result but rather what a medical exam -- the same kind of exam Manning had following the 2012 season -- on his surgically repaired neck shows in the coming weeks.

If doctors give Manning the thumbs up, the team has always expected him to play in 2014. Manning has always said if the doctors told him, even during his recovery following spinal fusion surgery, he shouldn't play, that he would walk away from the game knowing, "it's been a good run."

Manning set NFL single-season records with 5,477 passing yards and 55 touchdowns as the Broncos set a single-season record with 606 points.

In March 2012, the Broncos signed Manning to a five-year, $96 million deal that runs through the 2016 season. In May 2013, the Broncos purchased insurance to cover the team in the event Manning did not play in the 2014 season due to an injury unrelated to his surgically repaired neck suffered during the 2013 season.

The Broncos added the policy after Manning passed a postseason exam on his neck in early 2013. That 2013 exam kicked in a $20 million guaranteed salary for 2013 and a $20 million guaranteed salary for 2014, to go with some salary advances along the way. The insurance policy is for the 2014 season and covers the team for $10 million of that salary if Manning does not play because of a non-neck injury he suffered at some point in the 2013 season or postseason.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Denver Broncos were thoroughly outclassed by the Seattle Seahawks 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium. The first half was an unqualified disaster, and the second half wasn't much better. When you were a child, if you took this kind of report card home to your parents, you'd be grounded for a month.

PASSING OFFENSE


Things couldn't have gotten off to a worse start for the Broncos. On their first snap from scrimmage, a shotgun snap sailed over Peyton Manning's head for a safety. Manning threw two interceptions in the first half, one returned for a touchdown by Malcolm Smith, who was named MVP. Denver finally scored in the final minute of the third quarter, a TD pass to Demaryius Thomas, who set a Super Bowl record with 13 receptions (for 118 yards) -- but Thomas also had a fumble in the third quarter. Manning had a Super Bowl-record 34 completions for 280 yards, but he also had the two interceptions.


RUSHING OFFENSE


The Broncos rushed the ball only eight times in the first half for 19 yards -- 2.4 yards per carry. And down big in the second half, they had only six more rushes for 8 yards. So there weren't many opportunities, but Knowshon Moreno & Co. did next to nothing with the chances they were given.


PASSING DEFENSE


Russell Wilson didn't put up big numbers in the first half -- 9-of-14 for 94 yards. But the Seahawks were 4-of-6 on third downs, with Wilson throwing for a first down each time. Wilson didn't post big numbers in the second half, either. But he threw a pair of touchdown passes to Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin. The Broncos didn't cover well and tackled even worse.


RUSHING DEFENSE


The Broncos did an outstanding job stopping Marshawn Lynch in the first half, limiting him to 17 yards on 11 carries. But wide receiver Percy Harvin had two running plays for 45 yards, including a 30-yarder on a jet sweep on Seattle's first drive of the game. Lynch finished with just 39 yards but did have a touchdown. With Lynch, Harvin, Wilson and Robert Turbin, the Seahawks had 29 carries for 135 yards (4.7 yards per carry).


SPECIAL TEAMS


The Seahawks led 22-0 at halftime, but Manning has engineered comebacks before. That hope evaporated as soon as Harvin took the second-half kickoff 87 yards for a touchdown to make it 29-0. Harvin took the kick on a bounce, but the coverage and the tackling were terrible. Trindon Holliday wasn't very good on kick returns, either, averaging 21 yards on five returns.


COACHING


John Fox has to shoulder a healthy portion of the blame. As evidenced by the safety on the very first snap -- in fact, as evidenced by the entire first half -- the Broncos were off their game. He also made a bad instant-replay challenge in the first half and elected to punt in the third quarter with his team down 29-0, essentially waving the white flag.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

February, 2, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII:

What it means: The demolition of the Broncos' grand plan means that although Broncos may have come a long way since their 4-12 finish in 2010 with John Elway running the show, they still have plenty of ground to cover to get to where owner Pat Bowlen and Elway want the franchise to go. The Broncos did not show what Elway calls the “mentality to win a championship" right from the moment that center Manny Ramirez sailed the first snap past Peyton Manning's head.

Stock watch: Coaches coach and players play, to be sure, but the Broncos were supposed to have an advantage with a veteran head coach in John Fox and some veteran hands like Jack Del Rio, Dave Magazu and Richard Smith on staff. But the Broncos looked out of sorts from the start and showed plenty of bad body language throughout the first half as the game was ripped from their grasp.

More questions: Manning hates the questions, his teammates hate the questions and most people in and around the Broncos hate the questions. But after they quieted the what’s-the-deal-with-the-playoffs talk ever so slightly with wins over the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots in this postseason run, it will be rekindled after the Super Bowl blowout. Manning, who is set to have a physical in the coming weeks, is expected to be back for the 2014 season if the doctors give him the thumbs-up, but this one will sting him and the team for quite some time.

The flip-flop: The narrative for much of the past two weeks had been how the Broncos’ chances for a Super Bowl victory depended on whether their defense could hold up. But in the end, the defense more than held up its end of the bargain, as most everything else around the Broncos unraveled. From the air-mailed snap to open the game to poor pass protection to Demaryius Thomas’ fumble to poor special-teams play, the Broncos' defense was the least of the team’s worries when the game was still in doubt.

What’s next: Elway has always said a team can’t be afraid to ask itself the tough questions, and the Broncos will have plenty to answer. They simply weren’t good enough, not tough enough, not resilient enough to recover when things went badly early Sunday. The Broncos will have to look hard at adding some defensive pop in the coming months, especially because linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. are recovering from ACL injuries.

Jammer among Broncos' inactives

February, 2, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Denver Broncos inactives for Super Bowl XLVIII included at least one minor surprise when cornerback Quentin Jammer was one of the seven players who will not suit up for the game, according to the Broncos.

Jammer had played in some of the Broncos' specialty units down the stretch and the decision meant cornerback Marquice Cole, who was signed in the days leading up to the AFC Championship game, would be in uniform Sunday night.

The Broncos' other inactives are: quarterback Zac Dysert, running back Ronnie Hillman, tackle Vinston Painter, guard Chris Kuper, tight end Joel Dreessen and defensive tackle Sione Fua.

Fua has battled a calf injury for the last week.
Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver BroncosChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Broncos say that the toughness of Peyton Manning has been as impressive as his passing.
NEW YORK -- Manny Ramirez is a quiet, thoughtful guy, a get-it-done player who, like many of the Denver Broncos offensive linemen, would prefer to be seen rather than heard much of the time.

But the center who snaps the ball to Peyton Manning play after play, day after day, week after week, was asked this week what Manning does to reward his offensive linemen.

Ramirez didn’t hesitate before he simply said:

"He throws touchdowns."

Oh, yes, he has thrown some touchdowns this season, a season that has one more game when Manning and the Broncos take the field Sunday in Super Bowl XLVIII. But Manning has rewarded his offensive line, the Broncos receivers, defense, coaches, front-office staff and legions of ardent followers plenty over the past five months with a staggering total of touchdowns this season.

His all-out invasion of the single-season pages of the league’s record book made Manning an easy selection as both the league’s offensive player of the year and most valuable player at the NFL Honors Awards show Saturday night at Radio City Music Hall.

Both awards were chosen by a national panel for the Associated Press. It was Manning’s fifth league MVP award -- he already held the record with four -- and his second offensive player of the year award. Broncos executive vice president of football operations, John Elway, a Hall of Famer and the NFL’s MVP in 1987, accepted the offensive player of the year award for Manning, while Manning's father, Archie, and son, Marshall, accepted the MVP award.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesPeyton Manning threw for at least 300 yards in 12 of Denver's regular-season games this season.
That’s because Manning was otherwise indisposed Saturday night as the Broncos were putting the final touches on their game plan for Sunday’s title game against the Seattle Seahawks. A Super Bowl win Sunday would take Manning from having the greatest regular season in league history to what would be the greatest season overall.

Manning set single-season league records with 5,477 yards passing and 55 touchdowns over the course of the Broncos’ 16 regular-season games. Manning tied a single-game record with seven touchdown passes in the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens and had nine games with at least four touchdown passes to go with 12 300-yard passing games.

Tight end Julius Thomas called it "Madden football," and cornerback Champ Bailey has described it as "ridiculous sometimes, just taking the game to a place nobody knows."

This is most of what Elway had hoped for when he lured Manning to Denver as a stunned free agent recuperating from spinal fusion surgery. Elway looked Manning in the eyes and promised to do "everything in my power" for Manning to close out his career the way Elway did: with Super Bowl wins in each of Elway's final two seasons in the league.

For his part, Elway wanted a player to shake the sensibilities of the entire organization, a player so good, so accomplished, the player’s arrival would create "that mindset that you could win a world championship," to get the proverbial guy who raises all the boats.

"Absolutely. I mean, that's the reason you get a guy like that on your team -- to give you chances to win games like this," Bailey said. "He's the best to ever do it. I haven't played against a better quarterback, so I'm just glad he's part of our organization now because he definitely has a big part of why we're here, and I love him to death."

Manning was a Hall of Famer in waiting before he arrived in Denver. His place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame was largely assured had he never thrown another pass after missing the 2011 season. It’s why so many questions about his "legacy" being based on Sunday’s result actually resided on the border between silly and insane. His legacy is that he was a Hall of Famer before Sunday’s game and, without question or hesitation, will be one after.

But what he has really done is add a chapter of remarkable grit to his story.

Quarterbacks with as many throws for touchdowns as Manning has over his career are largely considered to be finesse players, alpha dogs who are the center of a team’s universe.

But Manning rolled up his sleeves, dug in and rebuilt himself from the ground up. he rebuilt himself from a place where he couldn’t even prop himself up with his right arm following his fourth neck surgery, let alone throw a pass that would be worthy of an NFL game.

He has done it with toughness, drive and some old-school heavy lifting.

Manning has shown himself to be driven and willing to put the dirt under his fingernails to get back to where he is now, to believe in himself, to believe in the tiny day-to-day gains that marked his recovery. And where it led him was to the here and now, in which he is a player with a second lease on football life, already looking to play beyond Sunday’s Super Bowl.

So, while the numbers say his 2013 season was unprecedented, unheard of and more than a little unbelievable, the numbers don’t tell the most amazing part of the story.

"Beyond everything he’s done this season, what he’s done just to get back on the field and play is amazing," Broncos coach John Fox said. "It’s amazing, unprecedented and remarkable. Just remarkable. I thought what he did last year was amazing, but then he had this season. He just keeps showing us more. He's shown us what he has inside him, who he is."

Broncos' D will need an A effort

January, 31, 2014
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Wesley Woodyard, Danny TrevathanDoug Pensinger/Getty ImagesHow will Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan and the Denver defense impact Sunday's result?

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The most prominent storyline of Super Bowl XLVIII, at least beyond what Richard Sherman said, what Marshawn Lynch didn't say and just how much wobble is in the average Peyton Manning touchdown pass, has been the Denver Broncos' No. 1 offense and the Seattle Seahawks' No. 1 defense.

It has been the classic matchup of league best on league best and the first of its kind since Super Bowl XXXVII, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, with the league's No. 1 defense, defeated the Oakland Raiders (the No. 1 offense) to close out the 2002 season.

But how a Broncos defense battered by injuries throughout the season responds against Seattle's power offense with Lynch at running back, the mobile Russell Wilson at quarterback and wide receiver Percy Harvin playing in just his third game of the season, will have a lot to say about how things go for the Broncos. In fact, it may have everything to say about whether or not the Broncos get to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

"We feel like we need to be the defense we know we can be," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "We've been better as the season has gone on, we've adjusted some, overcome some and now we feel like we're ready to play our best football."

The Broncos have four defensive starters on injured reserve -- cornerback Chris Harris Jr., defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Derek Wolfe and linebacker Von Miller -- and they have not always played with the consistency defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio would have liked because of it. But after holding opponents to fewer than 17 points only once in 14 games, the Broncos have held opponents to 17 points or fewer in four consecutive games. The total includes both of their playoff wins -- 24-17 against the San Diego Chargers and 26-16 over the New England Patriots.

"In spite of all the things that could have derailed us, we stayed on point, stayed on message, continued to grind, continued to believe," Del Rio said.

Del Rio has used a variety of lineup combinations until settling on the current one that includes Woodyard, an every-down player for much of the season, now playing in the specialty packages. Del Rio also has put Paris Lenon at middle linebacker in the base defense to go with Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving at the other two linebacker spots.

The combination gives the Broncos a little more bulk against opposing run games, especially one such as the Seahawks'.

The return of Champ Bailey, who played just five games in the regular season because of a left foot injury, has given Del Rio more options of late in the coverages the team can play and stabilized things, even with Harris Jr. having torn an ACL against the Chargers in the divisional round. After initially returning to the lineup, playing in the slot as part of the nickel defense (five defensive backs), Bailey will likely start on the outside against the Seahawks and then move inside to the slot if Seattle goes to a three-wide receiver look. In the nickel, Bailey would likely face Harvin or Doug Baldwin.

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rio
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty Images"I don't want to hear a reason that we can't," defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. "I want to talk about how we're going to get it done."
And the Broncos have gotten enough from Shaun Phillips, Robert Ayers, Malik Jackson and Terrance Knighton in the pass rush to at least try to work past Miller's injury, a torn ACL he suffered in Houston in Week 16.

"We think we can play the way we need to, we know we have to if we're going to win this game," Bailey said. "We don't think too much about the injuries. We would love to have those guys because you always want your best out there. But [Del Rio] isn't going to let you talk about that anyway and we wouldn't want to."

Said Del Rio: "I don't even want to hear it, I don't want to hear it from our staff, I don't want to hear a reason that we can't. I want to talk about how we're going to get it done. I don't spend a lot of time entertaining how we can't. I understand that we can and want to figure out exactly how we can get it done. It's a little bit of scheme, it's a little bit of technique, there's a little of mentality you've got to build. It can be pretty good if you put it all together and everybody buys in."

While the Broncos' record-setting offense and the Seahawks' bone-rattling defense have parked themselves in the headlines this week, Sunday's game may well be decided by what Seattle's offense does against Del Rio's defense.

"We feel underrated a little bit, but we've got to expect that," Broncos safety Mike Adams said. "I probably would say the same thing because we had a slow start as a defense early in the season. But one thing we did: We finished the season strong and we carried it on to the playoffs, and we're trying to continue that streak that we're on."

Broncos ride the Super Bowl wave

January, 30, 2014
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JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The Denver Broncos certainly needed their wits about them to handle their media obligations at Super Bowl XLVIII, but they also needed their sea legs.

That’s because the Broncos conducted the week’s media sessions aboard the Cornucopia Majesty, a 30,000 square foot Hoboken, N.J.-based ship docked behind the team’s hotel this week.

Bailey
And for Wednesday's and Thursday's sessions in particular, there was plenty of motion as the ship rose and fell on the waves.

Cornerback Champ Bailey stepped away from the podium on Wednesday and asked “you feel that?"

And quarterback Peyton Manning offered; “Is this boat moving?" and a little later, in between questions, said “I wasn’t prepared for the rocking cruise ship."

Several players said they were uncomfortable on the bobbing vessel, with cornerback Quentin Jammer offering “I don’t like this at all."

It was somewhat reminiscent of Super Bowl XXXIV in Atlanta. An ice storm hit the city during the week of the league's championship game, and it was unseasonably cold for several consecutive days.

The St. Louis Rams conducted their interview sessions in a ballroom of their hotel while the Tennessee Titans conducted theirs in a large tent that had been erected in the parking lot outside the hotel. When the Titans did their arrival news conference, there was no heat and then coach Jeff Fisher wore an overcoat for his session.
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The Super Bowl is a long way from the crossroads that led to it.

A long way from the moment when Adam Gase felt doubt creeping in, the moment when he had started to feel he could be many things in his life but a football coach was not one of them.

“I remember sitting in an Applebee's, interviewing for an insurance salesman job," said Gase, the Broncos' offensive coordinator. “And him basically telling me I would have to move back to Mount Pleasant [in Michigan] and me thinking that was what I was going to do."

Yes, the guy who will be on the headset to Peyton Manning in Super Bowl XLVIII, the guy who called plays for the highest-scoring offense in NFL history, the guy Manning has called “a superstar" in conversations with some around the team was sitting in a restaurant just minutes from his parents' house, about to call for the check on his coaching career.

[+] EnlargeAdam Gase
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliDenver offensive coordinator Adam Gase almost gave up coaching in his early 20s to sell insurance.
It was just after the LSU Tigers had won the 2001 SEC championship, and Gase, as an “eight grand a year" graduate assistant with student loans staring him in the face to go with the fact he “may or may not have been kicked out of grad school," was contemplating a future that was quickly becoming cloaked in uncertainty.

“It was just kind of that stage," Gase said. “… [LSU] was trying to find a role for me; that's not an easy thing to do at that level. I was back home to see my parents, and there was a part of me that was saying I might not go back [to LSU]."

At least until three friends -- Scott Angove, Nate Lambertson and Jeff Sablack -- who were, as Gase puts it, “beside themselves," got him to reconsider the notion of walking away. So Gase went back to LSU in 2002 and started stepping up the rungs from there. He went to the Detroit Lions, the San Francisco 49ers and the Broncos in the years and nameplates that followed.

He was a scouting assistant, an offensive assistant, a quality control coach, quarterbacks coach, wide receivers coach and quarterbacks coach. And then, when Mike McCoy left the Broncos to become the San Diego Chargers coach, Gase, at 34, was named the Broncos' offensive coordinator.

A short, a long and a winding road, all at the same time.

“He's bright -- very, very bright," Broncos coach John Fox said. “We knew his work. We knew how he handled himself. To me, when Mike left, it was a clear choice."

“I know there was a point when I thought it might not work," Gase said. "… I don't really think about sitting there in that interview anymore, but I'm glad I kept going."

Gase is not the product of a playing career that evolved into coaching once the on-field work was done. He is a product of from-the-ground-up work, of rolled-up sleeves to learn a profession. A process that started when he met current Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees. Gase was in high school, and Pees was at Michigan State.

Pees visited Gase's high school, handed him a business card and said when he arrived at Michigan State the following fall, as a student, he should come to the school's football offices.

“When I was in high school, I enjoyed the sport a lot; I was just terrible at it," Gase said. "… And I think [Pees] was thinking more like equipment manager and that. What ended up happening was Dean said here's my card and come see me when you get on campus.

“… And I showed up, gave the secretary the card. She goes OK, and I sat in [Pees'] office for like an hour and he gave me a self-scout [personnel evaluation] from when he was with the Cleveland Browns. I had just gotten a computer for my graduation, and he said, 'You know how to use a computer?' And I was like, 'I've got a computer' and I hadn't touched it yet. I kind of figured out how to put that together and set it up in my dorm room. I went through a lot of ink cartridges."

That's where it started, the get-it-done side it took to help McCoy dismantle the Broncos' playbook in roughly a week in 2011 and reconfigure it as a read-option attack with Tim Tebow at quarterback. The same guy who helped to then dismantle that when Manning arrived in 2012 and retooled it again when he was promoted to be the team's primary playcaller.

His go-for-it aggressiveness is rooted in Mike Martz's "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that powered the Rams to two Super Bowl appearances. Gase calls Martz “a mentor, a guy who taught me so much." The attention to detail and the respect for the need to play some power football come from his time with former LSU coach Nick Saban to go with some things from Josh McDaniels' Patriots playbook as well as his time with Fox and McCoy that helped him see the bigger picture, the one where he had to understand what defenses were doing and why.

“Adam is just a guy that was ready," McCoy said. “He's smart, creative, works very, very hard, a guy I leaned on a lot in my time in Denver. And you can see he's had a big impact in what they're doing."

What the Broncos did in the regular season was make history. From Manning's statistics to Denver's push-the-pace philosophy to the pile of touchdowns, the Broncos pushed the envelope on offense to a spot that had not been seen before.

None other than John Elway, still considered the final word on most things football for legions of fans across the Front Range, has said “I wish I could have played for him" and characterized Gase's decision not to interview with the Minnesota Vikings and Browns for their head-coaching jobs while the Broncos were still playing as “studly."

“Being somebody that did not play in college or at the professional level, I had to learn as fast as possible," Gase said. “It was an adapt-or-die situation for me. I said that a lot, especially with Peyton. You go from running an option offense to all of a sudden the protections are ‘you've got to be on it.' You have no choice but to figure out a way to speed up that learning curve.”

The curve now has a Super Bowl on it. The one where Gase will call the plays Sunday against the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

A game, an opportunity, that was almost left on the table. At Applebee's.

“I'm grateful for the chance, grateful to everyone who helped me, grateful to be a part of this organization," Gase said. “And I'm excited to be in this position, in this job. It's what I want to do, and you know, it really has worked out OK."
SAN DIEGO -- Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson will always have a special connection with the San Diego Chargers.

Wilson
His father, Harrison Wilson III, tried out for the Chargers as a receiver during the 1980 season. Harrison Wilson III was one of the final cuts that year, as San Diego chose to keep four receivers because of the versatility of a talented tight end you might have heard of -- Kellen Winslow.

Harrison Wilson III graduated from Dartmouth, where he played football and basketball. He later attended law school at the University of Virginia, but after receiving his law degree, Wilson was invited to training camp with the Chargers in 1980.

There, he and Winslow were roommates. Winslow said the fleet-footed Wilson probably would have made the team as the fifth receiver, but the Chargers decided to keep four tight ends instead because of Winslow’s ability to line up on the perimeter.

“That’s his dad,” Winslow said in a story I wrote about Russell Wilson a few years ago. “He’s smart, organized and very athletic.”

Wilson’s father died three years ago after a long battle with diabetes.

Wilson looked forward to playing at Qualcomm Stadium during Seattle’s exhibition opener against San Diego last August because that’s where his father played. He once again addressed that experience during an interview with reporters in New York as part of the lead up for this year’s Super Bowl.

“He might have been 28, somewhere around there, 29 years old when he went to go play for the Chargers,” Wilson said. “I remember Kellen Winslow used to call him ‘The Professor’ because he used to have those big, old-school glasses. I just remember my dad talking about Dan Fouts and Kellen Winslow and those guys, how talented they were and how much work they put in all the time, how their mind was never going to settle, no matter how good they were doing or how bad they were doing.

“The other thing that I learned from my dad is that you always have to persevere, have a great purpose in your life and understand where you're trying to go, have a great perspective. Those three things -- those three ‘Ps’ -- that he used to always tell me, were so real and they still stick with me today. It’s the same thing going throughout this week with all the talk. I’m as calm as I can be to be honest with you.”
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- For starters, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio likes his current job.

His team is in the Super Bowl, and he believes "his guys" are ready to "play well, compete well and try to win a world championship." So he says he doesn’t have one eye on the horizon as he goes about his business each day.

[+] EnlargeJack Del Rio
AP Photo/ Eric BakkeJack Del Rio's defense hasn't allowed more than 17 points in each of Denver's past four games.
But Del Rio, who was the Broncos’ interim head coach during John Fox’s leave of absence this season, does believe he will be a head coach in the NFL again someday.

"At some point there will be a match," Del Rio said Wednesday. "It will be something where it will make sense for both of us and then we’ll do something. Until then I’m going to enjoy the heck out of helping this football team win a world championship -- 100 percent of my focus is on this team winning a world championship, having a great week of preparation and going out and playing our best."

Del Rio, who was the Jacksonville Jaguars' head coach for nine seasons, was interviewed by USC officials during the Broncos’ bye week this past season for that school’s head-coaching job. But with the Broncos -- and Del Rio -- poised for a deep playoff run, USC hired Steve Sarkisian.

Del Rio also drew at least some interest from the Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings before those teams conducted their interviews and closed out their coaching searches.

Before, after and in between, Del Rio has gone about his business of simply trying to find the right combination on defense down the stretch. A group that finished in the top five in every major category in 2012 has struggled at times to find its groove after a rash of injuries this season. Champ Bailey played in just five regular-season games, while Kevin Vickerson, Chris Harris Jr. and Von Miller were placed on injured reserve.

But with Bailey’s return for the final two games of the regular season to go with the Broncos' two playoff wins, Denver has held each of its past four opponents to 17 or fewer points. And that’s Del Rio’s focus.

"I feel like for me, I’m really blessed to be part of an organization that is playing for the world championship," Del Rio said. "There certainly are opportunities each and every year ... and I’m not going to spend a lot of time wondering if there was a lot of talk, a little talk or those types of things. ... I’m part of the Broncos, so I’m going to do the best that I can to help us win. Maybe at some point, down the road, something occurs where I’m involved with someone else. But right now, I’m involved, 100 percent, with Denver."
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- OK, so the job description wasn’t all that great.

First, replace a Pro Bowl left tackle, the we-can't-lose guy the Denver Broncos signed to a five-year, $52.5 million deal last summer.

Then protect quarterback Peyton Manning’s blind side from a host of pass-rushers looking to get their hands on the future Hall of Famer and disrupt the Broncos’ high-scoring offense.

Do all of that for a team that has had Super Bowl aspirations since July.

And, oh, don’t screw up.

In a nutshell, that’s what Broncos left tackle Chris Clark had tossed into his lap this past September when Ryan Clady, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, went to injured reserve. When the guy the Broncos often built their pass-protection schemes around, since Clady could go solo so often against the league’s best rushers, went down, Clark was the one the Broncos turned to.

[+] EnlargeChris Clark
Tim Rasmussen/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesChris Clark (75) has the task of protecting quarterback Peyton Manning's blind side.
Clark had signed a two-year deal with the Broncos days before Clady moved to injured reserve. And suddenly a player who had started just six games in his previous three seasons with the Broncos was in one of the “foundation" positions. Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway, when asked what the foundation positions are, will routinely give quarterback, left tackle and edge-rusher as the top three.

“But I don’t really feel pressure, I try my hardest to apply the pressure," Clark said. “It’s about the job, it’s not about ‘Can he do it?’ or ‘Will I do it?’ Being a backup, I felt that my back was against the wall and I still feel the same way -- guys look at me and they lick their chops. It’s kind of what drives me to be successful."

There have been some bumps in the road for Clark to find himself in this spot. He was a Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft pick in 2008 and spent two years on the Minnesota Vikings' practice squad before the team waived him.

The Broncos claimed him off waivers a day later and Clark has worked his way into the Broncos’ plans since. They’ve always liked what he’s done in pass protection, his ability to work quickly in the team’s no-huddle look, even as the Broncos have worked out of a three-wide receiver set 73.6 percent of the time in their 18 games so far.

As a result, the five offensive linemen are left to handle whatever the defense sends at Manning with the remaining Broncos in the formation usually in the pass pattern. During the regular season, no quarterback with at least 320 pass attempts was sacked fewer times than Manning. He was not sacked in two playoff games.

Manning was sacked 18 times in the 16 regular-season games, including six games when he wasn’t sacked and five games when he was sacked just once. The Colts, with defensive player of the year candidate Robert Mathis working against Clark much of the time, had the most success with four sacks in Indianapolis' win on Oct. 20 at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Manning took several hard hits in the game, including a strip-sack that was forced by Mathis and another tackle from behind by Mathis when Manning re-aggravated an ankle injury that caused him to miss some practice time in the weeks that followed. Clark and the rest of the linemen were taking plenty of heat in the public domain at that point.

Or as offensive line coach Dave Magazu put it this week: “We were getting killed."

But the Broncos settled in during the weeks that followed, as did Clark. But given the Broncos spend so much time in an open formation on offense, it is no surprise their two edge protectors -- right tackle Orlando Franklin and Clark -- lead the offensive linemen in penalties. Franklin was flagged 11 times in the regular season, including one that was declined, while Clark was flagged seven times during the season, including four times over the past six games.

Still, with a 37-year-old quarterback coming off four neck surgeries, the Broncos would prefer their tackles take the occasional flag if it keeps Manning from taking an unnecessary hit.

“Chris Clark, who I think could be a starter for anybody else in this league, has been backing me and Clady up," Franklin said. “He stepped in for Clady in Week 3 and has definitely held his own."

In the Seahawks, the Broncos will see the most physical, active defensive front they’ve faced this season. Clark will likely find himself facing a combination of looks that put defensive end Chris Clemons, defensive end Cliff Avril or outside linebacker Bruce Irvin in front of him.

Clemons has been more of an early-down player, against some of the more power formations, while Avril and Irvin are two of the Seahawks’ go-to guys in the pass rush. Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase said he makes no concession for Clark in the lineup at this point; what would be called with Clady in the game, against any defense, will be called with Clark, even in a Super Bowl.

“Chris has done a good job, we feel like at this point we can do what needs to be done," Gase said. "We run what's in the game plan and Chris, like the rest of the guys, have protected Peyton because they know that is job one."

“They rotate their guys a pretty good amount, so I watched film on all of them," Clark said. “... But this is an amazing feeling. As a kid, you dream of things like this and hope that this will come up one day. Now that it’s finally here, man, I’m definitely enjoying it. You have to be about your business also, but I’m definitely enjoying the moment, because I know it’s a short moment. [I’m] just going to take advantage of this opportunity.”

It's a Broncs tale for Bronx's Sam Garnes

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
8:15
PM ET
Sam GarnesBrian Bahr/ALLSPORT Sam Garnes (20) and the Giants fell behind quickly and never recovered in Super Bowl XXXV.
NEWARK, N.J. -- Sam Garnes is trying to help the Denver Broncos win a Super Bowl, yet he was asked Tuesday about his experience losing the NFL's championship game.

And the former safety didn't backpedal from the line of questioning.

"No, no," he insisted. "That's real."

In five trips to the Super Bowl, the New York Giants have lost only once. Garnes, a Bronx native, was the starting strong safety for that team, which fell 34-7 to the Baltimore Ravens in January 2001.

So Garnes, Denver's assistant secondary coach, imparts a clear message to the Broncos as they prepare for Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seattle Seahawks: You don't want to know what it feels like to lose this game.

[+] EnlargeSam Garnes
AP PhotoGarnes is in his third year on the Broncos' coaching staff.
"I tell my players, we're not interested in having fun for two weeks between the AFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl," Garnes said at Super Bowl media day. "We want to have a great time for several months [afterward]."

That approach has remained constant for Super Bowl teams through the years. Other aspects of the experience have changed, including media day.

"It's amazing. You've got fans here," he said as he surveyed the scene. "We didn't have fans in Tampa Bay's stadium [13 years ago].

"And now we're playing a cold-weather game, which at that time was unheard of."

Ah, yes, the cold-weather Super Bowl in East Rutherford, N.J. Cold, hot, whatever -- Garnes, 39, is just happy to be home.

"Selfishly, I wanted to be here when they said the Super Bowl was in New York," said Garnes, who attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and played for both the Giants and New York Jets during his seven-year playing career.

"Selfishly, I wanted to be here, and I will admit that, because this is a place I love. All my players and coaches, they know much I love where I’m from."

Garnes -- who was quick to clarify that the Super Bowl is in the "Greater New York area; there's no disrespect to Jersey" -- looks forward to making the short trip to the Bronx from the Broncos' hotel in New Jersey.

"Right now we’re busy," he said, "but as the week winds down, I'll have time to go over there and get me some of that good ol' Bronx pizza and get me some Chinese food."

He'll likely get a warm welcome wherever he goes. "I have a lot of family still in the area," he said. It's the perfect setting for Garnes' return to the NFL's marquee event.

"To come back to your home area and be a part of the Super Bowl," he said, "is a great feeling."
NEWARK, N.J. -- Meet Greg Wilson, the most unlikely player at Super Bowl XLVIII.

Two weeks ago, he was a salesman with a solar power company. Today, he’s a member of the AFC champion Denver Broncos.

It’s one heck of a homecoming for the 23-year-old, who played his final two seasons of college football at nearby Fordham University.

[+] EnlargeGreg Wilson
Kieran Darcy/ESPNMedia day isn't as glamorous for practice-squad players like Broncos WR Greg Wilson, center.
"It’s been a blessing. It’s been crazy," Wilson said Tuesday at Super Bowl media day. "Going from a desk job and sitting at home, watching the games on the weekends to being out here and playing with the guys, it’s just been great."

A California native, Wilson transferred to Fordham from Diablo Valley Community College in 2011. He was a two-year starter for the Division I-AA Rams. His senior season he caught 41 passes for 545 yards and four touchdowns.

Undrafted this past spring, Wilson was invited to a San Francisco 49ers rookie minicamp but ultimately didn’t make the team.

He got a part-time job at Sunrun, which provides residential solar electricity, in San Francisco, but he continued to stay in shape, not giving up on his NFL dream. In November, the Broncos brought him in for a workout but did not sign him. Then, Wilson's phone rang Wednesday morning, Jan. 15 -- five days before the AFC Championship Game.

"My agent called me, [and] said the Broncos want to sign you to the practice squad," Wilson said. "I stood up from my job, said, 'Hey, I’m outta here,' left, went home, packed a bag and flew out that night."

Wilson admitted being a little nervous upon his arrival in Denver, but he was quickly put at ease. "The whole locker room is very welcoming," Wilson said. "It was definitely a little intimidating meeting a guy like Peyton [Manning] at first. But at the end of the day, he’s another teammate, and he’s a good guy."

Being a practice-squad player, Wilson doesn’t get to work with Manning, but he is playing an important role this week, acting as one of the Seattle Seahawks’ receivers on the scout team.

Wilson won’t get to play in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium, but he did get to participate in media day at the Prudential Center -- even if it was hard to find him, standing behind several teammates who seemed more eager to attract attention.

Wilson seemed satisfied just taking it all in and will have lots of stories to share with his family and friends. "They’re all so happy for me," Wilson said. "They know how hard I’ve worked and how bad I want it, so for them to see me get the opportunity, I think they’re all thrilled."

There are no guarantees Wilson’s time with the Broncos, or in the NFL, will extend beyond Sunday. His size -- 6-foot, 180 pounds -- won't do him any favors. But whatever happens next, no one can take away this experience.

"I’m just working to give the defense a good look," Wilson said. "If that leads to a contract in the future, that’s great. But right now, my focus is just on getting this defense prepared for Seattle."

He's been a Bronco for less than two weeks but sounds like a team player.
NEWARK, N.J. -- After being held out of practice for a week because of an illness, Denver Broncos kicker Matt Prater made his first public appearance Tuesday since the team arrived to the New York/New Jersey area.

Prater participated in the team’s media day event at the Prudential Center and is on track to practice Wednesday when the Broncos conduct a workout at the New York Jets' practice facility. Prater said he felt "a lot better" and spent his time Tuesday answering the usual questions for kickers about potential Super Bowl game winners and bad weather for Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII.

Asked how weather might affect the game, Prater said, "You know me. I’m not a huge thinker about too much. It’s just one of those things where I think no matter what, if you hit the ball well, it’s going to go straight and it’s going to go far. I’m not worried about it too much. I don’t think it’s going to be too windy. If anything, the wind affects it more than the cold. As long as it’s not too windy, I think we’ll be fine to get the touchbacks, hopefully limit their return game."

The Broncos held Prater out of practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday, in part, for Prater to recover and to avoid passing the illness to other players a week out from the title game. Broncos coach John Fox has said repeatedly Prater would be fine for Sunday’s game.

Prater led the NFL in touchbacks on kickoffs during the regular season and was 25-of-26 on field goal attempts, including 6-of-7 from 50 or more yards, including an NFL record 64-yarder Dec. 8 against the Tennessee Titans.

Prater is 5-of-6 in the postseason, including a 4-of-4 performance in the AFC Championship Game last Sunday.

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