For the second consecutive season the Denver Broncos watched all they had done in a 13-3 season get shoved aside and stuffed out of sight by an stunning end to their football year.
In 2012, it was the shocking double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens while this time it was a never-in-it mauling at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. And after several looks at the video to go with discussions with NFL pro personnel executives from both conferences, here is a report card for the 2013 team.
There is no grading on a curve. A's, as always, are far more difficult to earn than a Pro Bowl slot. Grades were awarded to the players on the Broncos' season-ending, 53-man roster and starters who suffered season-ending injuries after playing at least four games.
It is, however, not simply a Super Bowl grade. The title-game meltdown is in there, but the body of work goes from the season-opener to what transpired in MetLife Stadium.
Today it’s the offense’s turn, Tuesday will be the defense and Wednesday will bring special teams and injured players.
A -- Consistently dominant. What some personnel executives give a "blue" rating, a nod to veteran personnel evaluator Mike Giddings, a former Broncos assistant coach.
B -- Productive starter/key situational player who could fit smoothly into almost any lineup in the league.
C -- Did the job asked of him with consistency.
D -- Substandard. Salary and playing time didn't match output.
PNP -- Practice but not much play.
The Super Bowl will sting a bit for some time, but the Broncos sported the first 600-point offense in league history and Manning set single-season records for touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477) to go with 12 300-yard passing games.
Brock Osweiler: PNP
He played 51 snaps this season, 32 of those coming in the regular-season finale in Oakland. The Broncos like his progress and with Manning expected back for ’14 Osweiler needs to find a way to challenge himself and keep his edge until he gets a chance to earn the keys to the offense.
Zac Dysert: PNP
Broncos think enough of him as a prospect to have kept him on the 53-man roster for the season, but he was a gameday inactive in all regular-season and postseason games.
Played in 21.5 percent of the offense’s snaps as the fourth wide receiver in the rotation and caught a TD pass on 18.8 percent of his catches (three in 16 receptions). He’s an unrestricted free agent.
Eric Decker: B
The pending free agent cut his drops from a team-high 11 last season to six in his second consecutive 1,000-yard campaign with Manning behind center. Had a couple open-field stumbles on potential big plays, but those who make the calls for teams in free agency are looking hard at the fact he simply didn’t consistently get himself free from aggressive bump coverage, including a one-catch Super Bowl performance.
The only wide receiver in the league to finish with at least 90 catches, 1,400 yards and a 15 yards per catch average. Also led all wideouts in touchdown catches (14), trailing only New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham. Played through a painful shoulder injury down the stretch.
Wes Welker B-
Yes, his 5.6 receptions per game trailed only Demaryius Thomas (5.75) in the offense and he scored a career-high 10 touchdowns. But he led the team with nine drops in 13 games -- he missed three recovering from two concussions in a four-game span -- including three-drop games against New England and New York.
After arthroscopic surgery on his knee in May and again in August he went from playing over 70 percent of the snaps in 2012 to 13.2 percent this season and was a gameday inactive for the team’s three postseason games. He carries a $3.167 million cap figure in ’14 as well, 12th highest on the team at the moment.
Julius Thomas: A-
A breakout year with what the Broncos hope is plenty more to come. Still largely a one-dimensional player with limited experience working from an on-the-line position out of a three-point stance. But 65 catches and 12 touchdowns is a pretty good dimension right now.
Virgil Green: C
Green played 26.4 percent of the snaps as the Broncos’ on-the-line option in some of their heavier packages, but didn’t top 13 plays in any of last four games of regular season or in playoffs as Broncos went almost exclusively three-wide down the stretch.
Jacob Tamme: B-
Welker’s arrival ate into his playing time significantly -- 52 catches in 2012 compared to 20 catches in 2013 -- but was productive when on the field and was one of the team’s most consistent performers on special teams. Seventeen of his catches came over last seven games of regular season with Welker having missed three of those.
C.J. Anderson: PNP
Showed enough in training camp to earn a roster spot, but was a gameday inactive 11 times in regular season. Finished the year with seven carries.
Montee Ball: B
Things looked dicey for the rookie when he had his third lost fumble of the season Nov. 24 against the Patriots (game 11 for the Broncos), but he locked it down the rest of the way and became to go-to No. 2 back in the offense. Showed potential as a receiver as well.
Went from essentially being handed the starting job in offseason OTAs and minicamp to moping through a string of games where he was a gameday inactive.
After knee woes, some maturity issues early in his career and a roster spot that was tenuous at best by the time last summer's training camp opened, Moreno had his best season -- 1,038 yards rushing, 60 catches and 13 total touchdowns. The soon-to-be unrestricted free agent was also the most reliable pass protector at the position.
Zane Beadles: B
Like most of his Broncos’ brethren at the position, did not handle the Seahawks’ physical front well in season's final game. Still occasionally gets overpowered at the point of attack, but was one three Broncos’ linemen to have played at 99 percent of the team’s snaps on offense.
Chris Clark: B-
Being asked to take over for an All Pro like Ryan Clady in an offense that most often works out of a three-wide receiver set where the Broncos block five-on-everybody much of the time can be daunting. Manning’s quick mind and get-the-ball-out approach helps all of the guys up front, but Clark proved to be just the kind of insurance most teams would like at left tackle.
Orlando Franklin: C+
Struggled at times against the speed guys that get flipped to the defensive left at times. Led the team in penalties with 11 (one was declined) in regular season, including seven flags for holding.
After being signed when Clady went to injured reserve, the veteran played eight snaps against Tennessee to go with 10 in regular-season finale in Oakland.
Chris Kuper: PNP
His surgically-repaired left ankle looked to bother him for most of the season -- he played one full game, at Indy Oct. 20 -- and had 15 games, including all three in postseason, when he did not play a snap on offense or special teams as a gameday inactive much of the time.
Vinston Painter: PNP
The Broncos like his progress/potential and so do others. The team had to promote him to the 53-man roster from the practice squad to keep the San Francisco 49ers from signing him.
Ramirez believed he would be the starting center when few others on the outside did and until the fly-away snap to open the Super Bowl he had manned the position with consistency in one of the more difficult offenses to play at the position. Got pushed off the spot at times in pass protection by some of the defensive tackles with top-end lower-body strength.
Steve Vallos: C
Veteran was in uniform for 15 games in regular season and all of playoff games and played 107 snaps on special teams.
The Broncos dove in early in free agency to sign him and was every bit of what they hoped he would be. He was technically sound, consistently had quality hand placement and was the most physically powerful player in the Broncos front.