More failure than success for Denver on wild-card road
DENVER ” The Denver Broncos have been down this wild-card road before. One time, it led to a Super Bowl title. All the others have led to an early exit from the playoffs.
Denver is 3-5 in franchise history as a wild-card team. All the wins came in 1997 when the Broncos faltered late in the regular season, qualified as a wild-card and won three times ” twice on the road ” en route to their first Super Bowl title.
Receiver Rod Smith says he sees similarities between that team and this one.
“I really feel we have the capability, we have the coaching staff, we have the schemes,” Smith said. “We have everything in our grasp to put a great game plan together, execute that game plan and move on, deep into the playoffs. I expect us to be standing there in Jacksonville” for the Super Bowl.
Just like ’97, it would take three wins, but all of them would have to be on the road, beginning Sunday against Indianapolis.
Of the seven wild-card teams who have made it to the Super Bowl in NFL history, only one ” New England in 1985 ” has done it by winning three playoff games on the road.
The rest of Denver’s wild-card history has been much less successful. The Broncos lost at Houston in 1979, at Seattle in 1983, at the Los Angeles Raiders in 1993, at Baltimore in 2000 and at Indianapolis last year. The last two losses are Denver’s only playoff appearances since they won their second Super Bowl in 1998.
The ’97 team had John Elway, Gary Zimmerman, Shannon Sharpe and Terrell Davis, to name a few, and was coming off a 13-3 season the year before in which it lost in a huge first-round playoff upset to Jacksonville.
The Broncos were ahead in the AFC West most of the year until losses at Pittsburgh and San Francisco set them back, forcing them to settle for the wild-card. They opened the playoffs with a 42-17 win over Jacksonville at home, then won at Kansas City and Pittsburgh to make the Super Bowl.
This year’s team went 10-6 and never showed signs of being the best team in the league, the way the teams of the late ’90s did.
Nevertheless, coach Mike Shanahan looks at a roster with Smith, Jake Plummer, Champ Bailey and John Lynch and, like Smith, sees similarities between this and the Super Bowl teams of the past.
“I see a lot of character on this team, a lot of guys that have a sense of urgency about them and some resolve,” he said. “It’s very important to them. They are very businesslike and are looking for an opportunity to go on.”
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