What little was left in reserve was drained to get from the frigid field, the coldest most of these players had ever known, back to the warmth of the locker room. The execution and tactics might have been questioned, but the effort was not, and the night was marked with big plays that will soon be forgotten because the day was lost.
The pass breakup by Mike Adams to stop a Baltimore drive with 3:16 left in regulation? That’s gone to the dustbin. So, too, were Trindon Holliday’s two returns of 90 and 104 yards for touchdowns; they will forever be a footnote to one of the riveting NFL games ever played.
Knowshon Moreno’s touchdown catch, Von Miller’s drive-ending half-sack of Joe Flacco in overtime, Jacob Tamme’s leaning-foward snag of a low Peyton Manning pass to turn third-and-7 into a first down en route to the Broncos’ second touchdown, Keith Brooking’s Johnny-on-the-spot fumble recovery, Manning’s 290-yard, three-touchdown day … few will remember them.
Even the 13 wins the Broncos amassed will soon be forgotten by many. How many Broncos fans remember any of the wins in 1996 in any detail? Probably about one-one-thousandth as many as can remember exactly where they sat to watch the last Broncos playoff loss this crushing, the 30-27 stunner to Jacksonville in the divisional round.
Dreams are laid waste, again, which is why Miller couldn’t move Saturday night.
“I guess I just wasn’t ready to let it go yet,” he said. “I’m still not ready to let it go.”
It’s not just about the result for Miller — even though he will be haunted by the lost possibilities. It’s about the end of the road for a team he’d come to cherish.
“I enjoy coming to the locker room every day to spend time with those guys. The NFL offseason is totally different than a college offseason and it’ll be a long time before we play again. Just thinking about that and not wanting to let it go,” he said.
“This will burn for a while — and it should — but for us to get where we want to be, we have to overcome stuff like this.”
And that’s where the 1996 parallels pick up. The reason the Jaguars loss of that era remains so prominent is because of how the Broncos followed it: by going 33-6 over the next two years and winning back-to-back world championships.
Once the pain of Saturday subsides, Miller will understand this.
“I had dreams of confetti. I’m still going to continue to have those dreams,” Miller said. “Now I have a better understanding of what it takes to get there — from an individual standpoint and a team standpoint.”
A champion rose from the ashes of the last Broncos loss this crushing. Miller’s fondest hope now is for history to repeat itself.