A year later playoff loss still trails Broncos

The Broncos insist they have moved on from last season's playoff loss to the Ravens. Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos will now spend a football week in an odd little space between what they want to leave behind and what the city around them simply cannot, will not, let go.

Even the calendar won’t cooperate with the team because when it opens its postseason Sunday afternoon in Denver – Jan. 12 – it will be a year to the day the Broncos were ushered from last year’s Super Bowl festivus with a double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens on the same field where the Broncos will go to work Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.

So, on one hand you have the Broncos, who have essentially answered for last winter’s playoff loss in each of the 52 weeks that have followed, trying to recognize it, acknowledge it, then push it aside to focus on the task at hand. And on the other you have a Broncos-mad region that has essentially looked at nothing else over the past year using it as the frame around the 2013 season, even as Peyton Manning and team’s offense carved up the league’s record book.

Or as former Broncos defensive end Alfred Williams put it so bluntly this past August, that the Broncos were the only team in the league “with 20 preseason games.’’

And it’s going to be an important line to walk for the Broncos in the coming days, especially in this time in the NFL when fortune has seemed to favor those who played during wild-card weekend and the pressure of waiting has taken down more than one No. 1 seed in recent seasons. The last three Super Bowl winners came out of games on wild-card weekend.

“It’s like the NCAA basketball tournament: At the end of the day, you can get hot and a lower seed can win,’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox. “It’s just been that way here in recent history anyway, hasn’t always been the case ... but you get hot at the right time, that’s the key.’’

The Broncos have done their level best for 12 months to own the crushing loss to the Ravens. They have answered the questions, shown the proper amount disappointment, done a franchise's due diligence as it sifted through the football rubble.

But now, right now, they’d really like to worry about this year. So, while they will spend much of their days working on the Chargers, much of the conversation outside the team’s walls will likely be on how these Chargers look like those Ravens looked when they came to Denver last year.

A topic many of the Broncos' players don’t much feel like holding on to right now as a talking point, at least in the public domain. Asked in recent days if the loss to the Ravens has been mentioned since the end of the regular season, Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno simply said, “It doesn’t matter.’’

Asked about what he learned from last year, Moreno added: “I’m not worried about last year, to tell you the truth. I’m ready for this year, ready for this new season. Last year is last year. Let’s get it going this year.”

And that is what you would expect from those inside the Broncos' locker room, right out of the if-you-get-this-question playbook. Their problem right now is on the field, their problem is the Chargers, a team that handed them the only other home loss – 28-20 on Dec. 12 – since the Broncos lost to the Ravens, a task the team's veteran players have said that needs to elevated above all of the other football matters this week.

Fox has consistently talked of his desire and the necessity of keeping the team’s “focus small," as in the dilemma right in front of it, rather than continually picking at what’s already happened or worrying about what’s to come.

“You always look back, that what’s the past is, you try to learn from that,’’ Fox said. “You try to get motivated by the future, but you want to keep your focus in the present, in the now, and that’s what we’re trying to do with our football team.’’

It will certainly take some work. If the Broncos lock the gates to the castle and hunker down inside, unplug the cable, confiscate all manner of smartphones, perhaps then, and only then, could they avoid being awash in questions about where the Ravens loss fits in whatever becomes of this postseason. Questions about whether heartbreak is really enough fuel to win a championship.

But in the end, the simple truth remains: That loss has trailed the Broncos every inch of the way since they left the field a year ago, a procession of stunned expressions at the level of the opportunity that had just been lost. It will trail them after Sunday, no matter what the scoreboard says, until there is a win big enough to shove it aside in the minds of their faithful.

That’s just the bottom line and the Broncos will have to find a way, in the present, to deal with it.

“It was hurtful,’’ said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. “But now it’s something new. We’ve looked past that. I think we’ve got ourselves in a great situation and position to know we don’t want that to happen again. ... We just go to work, that’s what we do.’’