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Coping with loss: Broncos fans enter stages of grief following another playoff loss

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It's not quite what most of us expected as an ending to the season--though the signs were up front and center for all to observe.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After a three-year run that mimicked a roller-coaster ride, Broncos fans are left waiting to know if this is an end of an era. Before we even come to terms with that however, it's important that we know how each other is dealing with a loss to the Colts in the playoffs.

This game was a microcosm of the season. Every flaw and mistake that was made over the course of 16 games reared it's ugly head yesterday. Coaches did not have players prepared (again), in-game adjustments were few and too late to have any impact, the pass rush wasn't there, Del Rio once again fell in love with off zone coverage, there was no spy for Andrew Luck, Ryan Clady couldn't stop the pass rush from a nobody that caused a strip sack, receivers couldn't hold on to balls, Gase couldn't call anything more than a WR screen or sideline fade, Manning couldn't place the ball accurately or run for 5 yards with a field of green in front of him, the punter couldn't flip field position with any sort of consistency.

You know what did go well? The first offensive and defensive drives of the game, Connor Barth, CJ Anderson, and Bradley Roby.

Beyond that, this game was dominated in the trenches by a more well-coached team led by a young QB who didn't have accuracy or mobility issues.

You can already sense the "anger" stage in me kicking in so let's get to it.

Shock

This one might be more difficult to come by given the fact that the Colts led most of the game. it always seemed like an uphill battle, and anyone who has watched the Broncos struggles as of late could see that this was not a game the Broncos were favored to win the way they were playing.

Shock probably best describes how we felt after the Baltimore loss two years ago.

Shock would have been hearing John Fox say something halfway intelligent after the game. Shock would have been to hear Del Rio admit what a steaming pile of fail his defense was with all those expensive and shiny new pieces added to it.......sorry folks, that's anger talking again. Moving on.

Denial

This one is tricky because you're going to try and convince yourself that "it didn't happen." Well, just like that bad date that ended with some ugly chicken head right next to you in bed, it did happen. Not only did the Broncos lose a playoff game at home, they lost in convincing fashion.

A team that on paper had no business belonging, treated the Broncos to a physical and intellectual lesson THEY should soon not forget.

On the other hand, this is the NFL and on any given Sunday any team has a shot against any other in the NFL. The Broncos just got unlucky to play their worst game of the season during the playoffs.-----If you've caught yourself saying anything like that in the past 24 hours you're in denial.

Anger

This one is awesome because you get to play the blame game and point the fingers for the teams failure at anyone. Thank you John Elway for the vast resources you devoted to our patchwork offensive line this off season. It really was a pleasure watching an all pro RG play RT because our OC refused to give our former RT help against a pure speed rusher in the Super Bowl.

It was really awesome how you drafted two guys in the mid to late rounds of the draft that had absolutely no impact this season.

On the same level, thank you for signing a press man corner just so Jack Del Rio could use him as a soft zone guy all season. Del Rio is a real genie when it comes to X's and O's. It was absolutely amazing how he had our 360 pound NT dropping into zone coverage against the likes of Reggie Wayne yesterday.

Thank you John Fox for once again doing only what you can on a bigger stage: FAIL. Oh and while we're at it, thank you John Elway for building a team around a Hall of Fame Quarterback only to hand the keys over to Dan Reeves 2.0....you know because it worked so well when you were playing.

Thank you Adam Gase for turning our offensive passing attack into WR screen after WR screen after sideline fade after WR screen. If you ran any two route concepts to break the press man coverage on the outside, I sure as hell didn't see it.

Thank you Demaryius Thomas for dropping a million balls that hit you right in the hands.....that should bode will for your upcoming contract negotiations.  Just tell them you dropped them to make Peyton feel like he had a laser-rocket arm.

Thank you Peyton Manning for laying yet another goose egg in an important game. It's really easy to defend your legacy and playoff record when you throw for 150 yards and average about 3.5 yards per attempt.

I'd like to spend more time here but my blood pressure is starting to rise exponentially...

Guilt

This one resides more with the superstitious among us....and Bronco Mike has a confession.

It's my fault we lost the game.

All season long I had grown my hair and beard. Last week during the bye week, I finally cut the locks and chopped that facial hair down. Had I waited another month, the Broncos would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

Sorrow and depression

Sadly, I think this is the stage that will linger for years to come. Not because the Broncos lost, but because it signaled the end of an era.

The greatest quarterback that I have ever seen play the game of football seemingly deteriorated over night. And I'm not necessarily one of those that thinks it was his physical capabilities that failed him, I think the emotional and psychological pressure that Peyton Manning felt this past season had more to do with his declining play than anything.

Was it he mistrust in his offensive line that created a phantom pass rush? Perhaps. Whether he will ever talk about it or not, it is the Peyton Manning effect. We witnessed it here in Denver and if you are truthful, watched it take over the mindset of an entire fanbase.

Winning wasn't good enough anymore, It had to be in blowout fashion. There was something off with Manning if we ran for three touchdowns in the redzone rather than passing for them. There is something wrong with a guy having multiple games with multiple interceptions because no other quarterback faces those swings in fortune.

No matter how good this team was, it was never going to be able to beat Brady and New England in Foxboro, despite breaking that same team down to nothing in the AFC Championship Game a year before.

12 Pro-Bowls, 7 All Pros, 69k yards, 530 career touchdowns, playoff appearance year in and year out....none of it was good enough. People still wanted to see Tim Tebow, or the unknown Brock Osweiler, or someone else. Why? Because one ring is not good enough for people that already have two.

Peyton was like a drug. The more we had, the more we wanted, and the more we were disappointed when we couldn't reach that initial high

I am sorry Peyton spent his last years as a Bronco because this fan base never truly appreciated him. Nothing was ever good enough. He was like a drug. The more we had, the more we wanted, and the more we were disappointed when we couldn't reach that initial high.

GOAT's deserve to go out revered by people who appreciated them.

Imagine if Elway's final season ended in bitter defeat rather than in triumph. How would you have treated him?

In the end, sorrow and depression might hold more weight long term because it could have ended differently---and for all we know could end differently. But it sure does feel like the end to me.

Broncos fans need to hunger for winning again and forget this era of taking it for granted. Only then will we appreciate the game.

Acceptance

I've always asked people if we never won a Super Bowl, was getting rid of Tebow a mistake? Depending on the person and their level of fandom attached to the polarizing figure, some say yes, and some say no.

It happened, that's something that you don't get to change.

And after watching one of the best help get us to the promised land but struggle to seal the deal, there's no doubt in my mind that the Denver Broncos are better off three years later with "no plan B."

This was a gamble of sorts, and it mostly paid off, just not with a Super Bowl Trophy.

Until the next era of winning starts to write the future of the Denver Broncos, the Manning era in Denver has to be the 2nd greatest run behind the 96-98 Broncos that won two Super Bowls.

I think this era also reminded us how hard it is to win a Super Bowl. It's nice to talk about every season, but as the sun sets on 2014, there will be only one team left standing. Everyone else failed. Some had a better shot than others, and with Manning we always had a shot.

All you can ask for is a ticket to the dance. From there you have to put together at least three really good games in order to be crowned champion. After all the adversity, after facing everyone's best shot each and every game for the last two years, the Broncos simply had nothing left in the tank.

This team was Super Bowl caliber on paper, but never quite pulled it all together on the field like championship teams do. Whenever the reason, the answer is simple: It still isn't our time.

Our time will come, but for now it wasn't meant to be.

Engaging life

Take your time, but get over it Broncos fans!

We fall so far because the bar is high. Imagine if you were a Raider fan, just hoping for a .500 season or a win within the division.

Put yourself in Chiefs fans shoes, they haven't won a playoff game in 21 or 22 years...

The Chargers can't even play a home game on their own field.

Even the darling Patriots who have now made it to four consecutive AFC Championship Games have only 1 Eli Manning ring to show for their efforts.

Football is a game that's meant to be enjoyed, not an obsession that takes over your life.

There's always next season.

Before that even gets here, we have free agency and the draft to keep our interest.

Furthermore, dare I say there are more important things in life than football?

Closure

2014 was full of highs and lows. The best of 2014 for me was getting to take my brother to his first Bronco game. It also happened to be the game where Peyton Manning failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in 53 straight games.

If we've witnessed the end of an era, I only have this to say.

Thank you Peyton Manning for sharing your career with the Broncos! You gave us so many wonderful memories, Never have I seen someone command the field like you did. I would take another season from you in a heartbeat, but only if you're in the right place.

The decision is yours and you have to do what's right for you and your family. If the physical nature of the game is too much for a 38-year old body to handle at this point, walk away. If the stress far outweighs the pleasure, walk away.

If we've witnessed the end of an era, I only have this to say

Your legacy speaks for itself and needs nothing else to be complete.

You have shouldered so many teams for so long.

If it is your time to rest, walk away.

The NFL will miss you, it is better off with you involved. But you have given so much to the game and so much to a fan like me that we can never begin to express our gratitude.

Thank you Peyton Manning, you're simply the best!