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Merilatt: Broncos fans need a reality check

Broncos fans need a reality check. Big time.

Yes, last week’s loss in the AFC Divisional Playoffs was disappointing. But the reaction around Denver in the nine days since the defeat has been downright laughable.

The truth has been replaced by hyperbole, by both fans and the media. And some of the conclusions being drawn are absurd.

Peyton Manning can’t win in the playoffs – The loss to the Ravens lowered Manning’s all-time postseason record to 9-11, a sub-.500 mark that naysayers have been quick to point out as evidence that the Broncos quarterback isn’t a clutch performer.

First of all, the guy deserves a ton of credit for getting to the playoffs that many times. In 14 NFL seasons, Manning has made 12 postseason appearances; a playoff berth is virtually automatic when he’s at quarterback. Yet some people actually contend that the Broncos would be better off with someone else under center, including a guy who will be playing in the CFL next year.

Furthermore, people need to look at the circumstances surrounding the losses. In four of the 11 defeats (five, if Baltimore beats San Francisco in 13 days), Manning will have fallen to the eventual Super Bowl champion. And this time around, he outperformed the mighty Tom Brady against the Ravens; the Broncos had the game won in the final minutes, while the Patriots were blown out in the second half.

And here’s a little more food for thought. Prior to his final two seasons, John Elway was 7-8 all-time in the playoffs. He lost at home in the playoffs to an 8-8 team (Pittsburgh in 1984) and a 9-7 squad (Jacksonville in 1996), and he posted a sub-50.0 quarterback rating in Super Bowl XXII (36.8), Super Bowl XXIV (19.4) and the 1990 AFC title game (49.9). Would it have been smart to label Elway a “loser” before seeing his entire body of work?

John Fox should be fired – The guy has won back-to-back AFC West titles, gone 21-11 during his first two seasons in Denver and led the Broncos to the No. 1 seed this year, yet people think he needs to go. Talk about a tough crowd; that’s some pretty high standards.

Sure, the head coach made some tactical mistakes in the loss. But those errors are really easy to point out in hindsight. Few people (go look at their Twitter timelines for evidence) had a problem with Fox’s decisions in real time. He made smart calls, but the results just didn’t go Denver’s way. It happens.

To fire him for these errors would be a gross overreaction. It would be akin to San Diego firing Marty Schottenheimer following a 14-2 season in 2006 because the Chargers were upset in the playoffs by the Patriots. How’s that working out?

Champ Bailey needs to be moved to safety – Even at 34 years old, Bailey is one of the best cornerbacks in football. In 2012, he was selected to the Pro Bowl for the 12th time and named to his seventh All-Pro team. That doesn’t sound like a guy who has slipped to the point where he needs to be exiled to a new position.

One of the hardest things to find in all of sports is a shutdown corner. The Broncos have one in Bailey, whom they’ve been able to put on opposing team’s best receiver every Sunday for nearly a decade. And this season was no exception. Week after week, No. 24 would all but eliminate the other team’s top passing threat – a fact that gives defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio tremendous freedom when putting together his game plan.

Did Bailey struggle against Torrey Smith? Yep. He got burned on the Ravens first touchdown and didn’t react to the ball well on their third. But to eliminate what is arguably Denver’s greatest defensive asset because of one bad day would be foolish beyond belief.

Rahim Moore won’t play another down as a Bronco – A year ago, Denver was willing to try anyone with a pulse at safety. In their playoff loss at New England, David Bruton, Rafael Bush and Quinton Carter were their best options. This season, Moore blossomed into a bona fide starter, shining in Del Rio’s system; he showed a nose for the football and demonstrated the kind of swagger that defined Denver’s defense for most of the season.

To throw away all of that progress, casting aside all of that promise, because of one bad play – albeit a Buckner-esque miscue – would be silly. Broncos fans will forgive the blunder; stuff happens. It wasn’t as though Moore made a mental error (see Michael Dean Perry); he simply botched a play. So what?

The franchise won’t be able to recover from this kind of disappointment – Look no further than the teams who will be playing in Super Bowl XLVII for proof that this argument is balderdash. Last season, both the 49ers and Ravens lost in the conference championship game, thanks to circumstances that were every bit as torturous as what Denver endured this year.

San Francisco fell in overtime to the Giants when Kyle Williams fumbled a punt, setting up New York’s game-winning field goal. And Baltimore was knocked out at New England when Lee Evans dropped a go-ahead touchdown in the waning moments of the game and Billy Cundiff shanked a 32-yard field goal that would have forced overtime.

Both of those losses, given the circumstances and what was at stake, were every bit as difficult as Denver’s loss to the Ravens. Yet those franchises bounced back, learning from the experiences and making it all the way to the Super Bowl just 12 months later.

Denver lost to a team that has two future Hall of Fame players and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year on its defense. They fell to a franchise that has played in three of the past five AFC Championship Games. And they were knocked out by a team that went into New England yesterday and handled the Patriots on their home turf – one that will be playing in New Orleans on Super Sunday.

The Broncos lost, but that’s not cause for rash decisions. That’s the way things go in the playoffs, where every game is tight and a few plays make the difference between winning and losing. The no need to overreact.

It’s time to come to grips with reality, Broncos fans.


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