Broncos fans have only playoff memories this week

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It is certainly still the winter of discontent among the Denver Broncos' faithful.

The playoffs are somebody else's business and the team's coaches are preparing for the Senior Bowl instead of the other game with the same initials. And president of football operations/general manager John Elway's last public words on the 5-11 mess left behind in 2017 hinted that it just might take a little time to dig out of this one.

This week it meant those who have built their football weekends around the Broncos for as long as they can remember sifted through the memory banks for special playoff moments.

Thursday, The Drive turned 31, a set of football plays still talked about here with the kind of reverence reserved for few other athletic items. People a mile above sea level can quickly recite exactly where they were and what they did. The Broncos, with Elway behind center, went 98 yards in 15 plays in Cleveland to tie the AFC Championship Game at 20-20 as Elway's 5-yard pass to Mark Jackson forced overtime with less than a minute left in regulation.

Generations know the rest of the story, the Broncos won in overtime and Elway went on to a Hall of Fame career that eventually finished with two Super Bowl wins a little more than a decade later.

And Friday, the other side of the coin turned 5. Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones for a 70-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in an AFC divisional-round game the Broncos had won until that moment.

That play tied the game at 35, and the Broncos went on to lose to the Baltimore Ravens in a second overtime. The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl. Safety Rahim Moore, who is in every photo of the catch as the nearest Denver defender, has always been the target of ire for many, though it was cornerback Tony Carter who didn't jam Jones at the line of scrimmage to even slow him down.

That wasn't how Peyton Manning's first season with the Broncos was supposed to end, but the Broncos did go to the Super Bowl in two of the three seasons that followed. Elway delivered for Denver fans once again, this time as an executive by wading into free agency with spectacular results in the two seasons that followed the Ravens loss.

Before the Broncos adjourned for the season, linebacker Brandon Marshall touched on where it all fits when he said "if you're here you know people have seen it all, they're used to being at those big games, playoff games, they're used to winning, to playoffs. They can tell you every play."

The Broncos look a long way from that right now, even as folks sift through their post-holiday pile of bills to decide how they'll arrange things to pay for season tickets once again. Linebacker Von Miller has said "we trust John Elway" to make the repairs the Broncos need in the months to come, but the bottom line is this: though playoff memories are what they want, few will remember much about the season that just passed.

And even Elway wanted to leave it behind when last week he said: "There's nobody happier 2017 is over."