The Denver Broncos are currently in the middle of enjoying some well-earned time off, purchased by securing the AFC's No. 2 seed in the post-season. They won't see the field again until January 11th, when they host a game in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The Broncos followed up their record-setting 2013 campaign with a quietly impressive season. And although their season is not yet over, join us as we chronicle their top-10 stories of 2014.
10. Emergence Of Brandon Marshall
When the Broncos leading tackler and defensive leader, Danny Trevathan, went down with a leg injury in the pre-season that would essentially end his season, a deep panic began to bloom in the hearts of Broncos Country. Fortunately, the Broncos had Marshall waiting in the wings. Jack Del Rio plugged him in at weakside linebacker and the rest is history.
Although Marshall missed the last two games of the season with a foot sprain, he finished 2014 with 113 total tackles, 10 tackles for a loss, 2 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. With a +18.9 cumulative grade, he was the 5th highest rated 4-3 outside linebacker according to Pro Football Focus. Looking ahead to 2015, the Broncos will look to find a way to get both Marshall and Trevathan on the field.
9. Free Agent Signings
Back in March, John Elway signed four high-impact free agents, three of whom were elected to the Pro Bowl; T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and Emmanuel Sanders. Detractors bemoaned the transactions, decrying that Elway was in error if he believed he could spend his way to a Super Bowl title. In hindsight, Elway hit pay-dirt on each and every one of them.
Ward brought a swagger and physicality to a defense who had been labeled as "soft" post-Super Bowl. Talib achieved the seemingly insurmountable feat of replacing the great Champ Bailey, shutting down the defensive left side of the field. Ware hit double-digit sack totals and brought a balance to the Broncos pass rush that had been missing since Elvis Dumervil departed. And Sanders produced a highlight reel season, surpassing 100 receptions and 1,300 yards. Anyone out there still question Elway's abilities as a talent evaluator and front office closer?
8. Peyton Manning and Another Record-Setting Year
After obliterating the NFL passing records in 2013, Manning produced yet another storybook season in Denver. In week 1, he defeated the Indianapolis Colts, becoming just the second quarterback in NFL history to beat all 32 teams in the league. In week 7, Manning found Demaryius Thomas for his 509th career touchdown pass, surpassing Brett Favre for the most in league history. To top it all off, he was elected to his 14th Pro Bowl, tying Bruce Matthews and Tony Gonzalez for the most in NFL history. It was a good year for the Sheriff.
7. Nine Players Elected To The Pro Bowl
When the 2015 Pro Bowl roster was announced last week, it was the Broncos who led the NFL in selections, boasting nine players to be honored in the NFL's All-Star game. T Ryan Clady (4th), CB Chris Harris, Jr (1st), QB Peyton Manning (14th), OLB Von Miller (3rd), CB Aqib Talib (2nd), WR Demaryius Thomas (3rd), TE Julius Thomas (2nd), SS T.J. Ward (2nd) and DE DeMarcus Ware (8th). Seven of the Broncos nine selections were either drafted or signed by John Elway.
6. Champ Bailey Retires a Bronco
Not long after the team's devastating loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos released the perennial Pro Bowl cornerback. Bailey, a 15-year veteran, later signed a one-year deal with the New Orleans Saints.
He reportedly had a great training camp, but when the roster was whittled down to the final 53 guys, Bailey found himself on the outside looking in. Later, several teams would show "interest" in him, although none consummated it. Eventually, he returned home to the Mile High City, signed a one-day deal and retired as a member of the Denver Broncos.
5. Demaryius Thomas' Record Year
After getting out to a slow start, Thomas would go on a run of seven-straight 100-yard receiving games, falling just one game short of the NFL record, held by Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions. Thomas would finish the season with 10 such games, representing just seven players in pro football history to ever accomplish the feat.
He ended the season with 111 receptions, for 1,619 yards, breaking the Broncos franchise record for receiving yards in a single season, previously held by Rod Smith. Ultimately, by 2 receptions, he fell short of Smith's team record for receptions, but he'll aim to knock that one down in 2015. 2014 also marked the third-straight season that Thomas finished with 10+ TDs. Last but not least, Thomas joined Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only receivers in NFL history to produce 1,400+ yards and double-digit TDs in three-straight seasons.
4. Say Hello To C.J. Anderson
2014 was supposed to be the breakout season for one Montee Ball. But he went down early in the season with a groin injury and was eventually placed on injured reserve. Ronnie Hillman received the next opportunity to succeed as the Broncos bell-cow, but he too eventually succumbed to the injury bug. The team's 2012 third round pick and 2013 second round pick, both in the infirmary.
The team eventually turned to the former undrafted free agent our of California, C.J. Anderson, who proceeded to change the face of the Broncos offense. With two three-touchdown games in 2014, Anderson joined Hall of Famer, Terrell Davis, as the only running backs in franchise history to have multiple games in a season totaling at least 3 rushing scores. Anderson finished the season with more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and 10 total TDs, in only seven starts. That tally of scores represents the most ever by an undrafted Broncos running back.
3. Undefeated at Home
The Broncos finished undefeated at home in 2014 for just the sixth time in franchise history. The Broncos have only lost twice at home in the regular season, since Peyton Manning joined the team in 2012. Home-field advantage has officially returned to the Mile High City.
2. AFC West Perfection
For only the third time in franchise history, the 2014 Broncos went undefeated within the AFC West, defeating all divisional comers. Going undefeated at home and in the division, they join the 1998 Super Bowl Champion Broncos as the only teams in franchise history to accomplish both feats in the same season.
1. Fourth-Straight Division Title
Since Johns Elway and Fox joined the Broncos in 2011, the team has won the AFC West each season. John Fox joined some elite company in the AFC West coaching annals, becoming the first head coach to win four-straight division titles, since John Madden accomplished the feat with the Oakland Raiders from 1972-76. Not even the most accomplished head coach in Broncos history, Mike Shanahan, can boast the same accomplishment.