March 20 2012; Englewood, CO, USA; General view of Broncos headquarters before the start of press conference to announce the formal signing of quarterback Peyton Manning. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-US PRESSWIRE
With the acquisition of Peyton Manning, most Denver Broncos fans are already fantasizing about what the 2012 Broncos season holds. Though the Broncos have the second toughest schedule next to the Giants, most prognosticators have picked them to be the favorite to win the AFC West. That means, to understate it, that most fans expect nothing short of another playoff appearance (if not a victory and/or Super Bowl).
The Broncos are no strangers to the playoffs. Since their fist appearance on Christmas Eve in 1977, they have amassed an 18-16 record. The post season is a unique time for most Broncos fans, filled with triumphant victories and embarrassing Super Bowl losses. Thankfully, in this article we'll only focus on only the greatest playoff games in Denver Broncos history.
Without further ado....
10. January 8, 2012 - Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos - AFC Wildcard
How does our most recent playoff victory make this list? Simple, it was the Broncos first playoff win in nearly six years and it ended with such an exciting play that it had to go somewhere within the rankings. It's easy to forget how things started out for the Broncos at the beginning of the 2011 season. Struggling under Kyle Orton for the first five games, the 1-4 Broncos didn't appear destined for much of anything. However, Tim Tebow and the Broncos Defense (credit where credit is due) turned things around and, miraculously (beep beep beep), backed into the playoffs. Finishing the last four games of the season with a 1-3 record, things weren't looking good when the 12-4 Steelers came into town. Tim Tebow threw for 316 yards, ran for two touchdowns and threw for another - to seal one of the most exciting victories in recent Broncos history. (Not to mention the quickest conclusion to an overtime game in NFL playoff history - not counting kickoff returns.)
9. January 14, 2006 - New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos - AFC Divisional
Coming in at number nine, the great Patriots v. Broncos matchup of the 2005 postseason was one few Broncos fans will soon forget. Jake Plummer was coming off the best season of his career and had plenty of ground support with the formidable RB tandem composed of Mike Anderson and Tatum Bell (they came dangerously close to becoming the second tandem in NFL History to each get 1,000 yards in a season - a feat not matched since Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack did it with the Browns during the 1986 season). Everything seemed to come together for the Broncos in this game. Champ Bailey picked off Tom Brady in what was the longest non-scoring play in NFL history. Punter Todd Sauerbrun put his hat on a ball and caused a costly Patriot fumble. In the end, the it would be the play of the defense that would seal the victory. As the old saying goes, you can win when you turn the ball over and the Patriots did six times.
8. December 27, 1997 - Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Denver Broncos - AFC Wild Card
In this ranking, revenge goes a long way. In the Divisional round of the 1996 playoffs (played January 4, 1997), the 13-3 AFC favorite Denver Broncos squared off against the Jacksonville Jaguars, a recent team only in its second year of existence. It was a devastating loss for the Broncos and their fans. John Elway himself said that that loss hurt him more than some of the Super Bowl losses. In December of that same year, the Broncos and the Jaguars would again face each other at Mile High Stadium, though this time things were different. The Jaguars were no match for the Broncos ground game. Anytime you can rush for 310 yards and 5 touchdowns, it's a good day. Considering the final score of the game, 42-17, it was a great day.
7. January 4, 1992 - Houston Oilers vs. Denver Broncos - AFC Divisional
With time running out in the 4th quarter, the Broncos were pinned down on their own 2 yard-line. With no timeouts and down by one (due to a mishandled extra point snap by a certain current Houston Texan's head coach), things were looking dire for Denver. This game clocks in at number seven because it was number seven who made the seemingly impossible possible. Denver won the game that has gone down in history as "The Drive II". The reason this one doesn't come in higher is because the Broncos went on to lose to the Buffalo Bills a week later. It was a thrilling game to watch and certainly ranks as one of the top ten.
6. December 24, 1977 - Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos - AFC Divisional
One little known fact about this game is that had it been played after 1990, this game would have pitted the #1 seed Denver Broncos against the #4 seed Oakland Raiders. However, because teams in the same division were prohibited from playing in the divisional round (huh?), Denver matched up against the #3 seeded Pittsburgh Steelers. Though it hardly seems fair, that's one of the things that makes this post season game so compelling. Great teams rise to challenges and the Broncos did. Denver Ring-of-Famer Tom Jackson picked off Terry Bradshaw twice and recovered a fumble. Perhaps this is why Bradshaw seemingly gives the Broncos a short shrift... Though this game offers few clues as to why he's so damn annoying. So why does this game come in at #6? Because it was the first playoff win in team history. After seventeen years of futility, the Broncos finally had something on which to hang their hat.
5. January 17, 1988 - Cleveland Browns vs. Denver Broncos - AFC Championship
Coming in at #5 is "The Fumble". So storied in Broncos lore, this game needs little explanation. From Wikipedia.
Browns running back Earnest Byner took the handoff and appeared to be on his way to score the game-tying touchdown, but was stripped by Broncos defensive back Jeremiah Castille at the 2-yard line. The Broncos recovered the ball, gave the Browns an intentional safety, and went on to win 38-33.
It was this game saving play that launched the Broncos to their third Super Bowl (a heart crushing loss to the Washington Redskins). Castille's strip was so improbable and famous that this game clocks in at #5.
4. January 31, 1999 - Denver Broncos vs. Atlanta Falcons - Superbowl XXXIII
The 4th greatest post season game in Broncos history is John Elway's final game. It seemingly had everything. Intrigue? Elway was facing Broncos coaching legend (winning three AFC Championships makes you a legend in my book). High Scoring? Elway threw for 2 touchdowns and Howard Griffith ran for two more. Final score, 34-19, but it was never that close. It even had a little scandal... Who can forget Eugene Robinson getting popped on a prostitution sting the night before the game? Eugene probably can't...
3. January 11, 1987 - Denver Broncos vs. Cleveland Browns - AFC Championship
Of all the teams in the NFL, very few have a single game that signifies all that is great about that team. "The Drive" was a magnificent bit of Mile High Magic on parade in Cleveland Municipal Stadium. The Browns were coming off of an heroic overtime win against the Jets. All indications were that their team was about to contend for NFL Champion prominence, something Cleveland hadn't achieved since the 1964 championship over the Colts. With five minutes on the clock and 98 yards to go to simply tie the game, it was all but certain that the Browns and not the Broncos would go to the Super Bowl. Then, as we all know, John Elway connected with a tumbling Mark Jackson in the endzone with just 34 seconds left. Once Rich Karlis booted probably the ugliest field goal in franchise history (look at that thing!), the Broncos were on their way to get annihilated in Super Bowl XXI.
2. January 1, 1978 - Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos - AFC Championship
How is it that The Drive and The Fumble (not to mention a Super Bowl victory) have to take a back seat to this game? Simple. You always remember your first. QB Craig Morton spent the week preceding this game in the hospital with an injured hip, something that would be impossible to hide nowadays. The game was marred by terrible officiating. RB Rob Lytle clearly fumbled a ball that the Raiders recovered for a touchdown, but the officials incorrectly ruled that his progress had been stopped when the ball came out. Then later, the Raiders caught a break when an amazing Jack Dolbin touchdown catch was ruled incomplete. After seventeen years of hapless and at times comical football, the Denver Broncos were on their way to the Super Bowl. It was this game that brought them into the national football discussion.
1. January 25, 1998 - Denver Broncos vs. Green Bay Packers - Superbowl XXXII
Was there any doubt which game would end up at #1? This was the pinnacle. The was the as good as it could ever get, right? Rather than go into all the things that make it great, the helicopter, TD's run with a migraine, the tit-for-tat play of John Elway and Brett Favre, let's look at what would have to happen to unseat this games prominent position. There's only one thing I can think of... The Broncos would need to win against the 49ers, Giants, Redskins, or Dallas and set a new record as the victor for blowing out an opponent in the Super Bowl. As I said, revenge goes a long way...
What do you think?