January 23, 2006 — The Broncos dug themselves a 10-0 hole for the second consecutive time in an AFC Championship. But this time John Elway wasn't the quarterback, Vinny Testaverde wasn't the counterpart and Mile High Stadium wasn't the venue. And there wasn't a storybook ending for Denver on Sunday, just a disappointing and demoralizing 34-17 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Jake Plummer threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles, Ben Roethlisberger and the visitors turned the miscues into three touchdowns, and a sun-splashed afternoon was spoiled for the blue and orange-clad spectators at Invesco Field. While the Steelers — the first sixth seed to hoist the Lamar Hunt Trophy — looked forward to Super Bowl XL in Detroit, the Broncos sulked after squandering a golden opportunity at home.
Woelk: Broncos still have long way to be 'Super' - Daily Camera - Neill Woelk
January 23, 2006 — Next year, anyone? No need to clear space at Dove Valley for another Lombardi Trophy today. No need to schedule a parade, no need to start making comparisons between these Broncos and Denver teams of the past. No. 7 still rules — but Sunday afternoon, that number was worn by a second-year quarterback who sliced Denver's defense to pieces. Big Ben bounced the Broncos, and today, the debate will begin: how do you judge a season that ended with such a thud? Certainly, there is no disgrace in losing to the best team in the AFC — and the Pittsburgh Steelers staked undeniable claim to that designation Sunday afternoon by making the Broncos the final piece of a 1-2-3 sweep of the AFC's top-seeded teams. Neither can the Broncos feel bad about a 13-3 regular season record, an AFC West title and a playoff-opening win over the defending Super Bowl champs.
It's curtains - Denver Post - Mike Klis
01/23/2006 - Don't cry, Denver. Don't despair, don't fret, don't get mad. No sense wondering what might have been. Pittsburgh's guys were better than Denver's guys. Way better. All hail Ben Roethlisberger, Bill Cowher and the Pittsburgh Steelers. They came into supposedly unconquerable Invesco Field at Mile High and not only conquered, the Steelers destroyed the Broncos 34-17 in the AFC championship game. "They played a better game than we did from start to finish," Broncos receiver Rod Smith said. "That's why they're moving on and we're going home." The Broncos had a fine season. They exceeded all preseason expectations. It took until the AFC title game to find out, but in the end, it didn't matter whether the Broncos (14-4) played here or in Indianapolis. They were not a Super Bowl-caliber team.
Plummer, again, in the shadow of a No. 7 - Denver Post - Mark Kiszla
01/23/2006 - Unable to feed the orange madness, unable to beat Pittsburgh or escape the shadow of John Elway, Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer had nothing left to do except walk away as the loneliest man in Colorado. Ten solitary steps from the locker room, Plummer finally threw in the towel. It landed in a heap against a wall. With a chance to lead Denver to the Super Bowl and capture the city's heart, Plummer dropped the ball. He fumbled twice and threw two interceptions. Asked to be the hero, he stumbled Sunday during a 34-17 loss to Pittsburgh in the AFC title game. "If we lose, I'm taking the blame," Plummer said. "That's my job." As Denver wakes up this morning, it is still very much Elway's town. Plummer? He's trying. But trying is not enough. It's never enough.
Shouldering another wait - Rocky Mountain News - Jeff Legwold
January 23, 2006 - On the other side of history, you could hear a pin drop. The Denver Broncos on Sunday became just another footnote on a for-the-ages run by the Pittsburgh Steelers toward Super Bowl XL, another top seed pushed aside, in a 34-17 AFC Championship Game loss at Invesco Field at Mile High. A bone-numbing loss in a game that left much of a sellout crowd stunned in its seats, a game that left the Broncos slumping into the off-season under the weight of lost opportunity. "We had a good season, but it's still a failure to me," Broncos receiver Rod Smith said. "That's in my eyes, that's nobody else's opinion, that's my opinion because I know what it's like to hold the trophy at the end. But anything less than that is a failure to me. . . . When we needed it the most, we didn't get it. Their team was better."
Lincicome: Even at home, Broncos look like lost cause - Rocky Mountain News - Bernie Lincicome
January 23, 2006 - How convenient for the Broncos that next year does not require a new calendar. Or even a plane ride home. But next year it is, all the same and all of a sudden. Another Broncos season ends in January, this one at Invesco Field instead of back there in Indiana, the third short sheet in a row, a few weeks later but still a numbing redundancy. Home cooking, splendid weather, encouraging worshipers, the merest of opponents, none of those advantages helped the Broncos any more this time than the last two. The team that might have been champion, with a chance to be, if not a team for the ages, at least the team for a season, let practically a free pass to the Super Bowl pass. Sorry to use that word. Pass. It conjures up the flailing, failing Jake Plummer, asked finally to do something, unable to do enough, except to help Pittsburgh, which didn't really need it.
Reversal of Fortune - Denver Broncos.com - Andrew Mason
Monday, January 23, 2006 - Defeat was barely an acquaintance to the Denver Broncos in the 2005 season. After Week 1, the Broncos seemed to barely know the notion of it even in passing, with just two losses in the 16 games that followed -- by a combined five points. So what happened Sunday in the AFC Championship Game was unfamiliar. The 34-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was their first loss since Dec. 5, and their first home defeat since Nov. 28, 2004. The bitter taste of defeat was foreign. The way it happened, though, was anything but, at least to those who'd watched the Broncos disassemble opponents in 14 of their previous 16 games -- mainly because the Steelers took the Broncos' frequent path to victory and turned it against them. They grabbed the early lead then maintained it with an offense that chewed the clock. "They didn't really do anything that surprised us," safety Nick Ferguson said. "I think we had an excellent game plan, and we just didn't execute." But perhaps most importantly, the Steelers forged massive advantages in turnover margin, time of possession and third-down percentage. During the regular season, the Broncos had a plus-20 turnover ratio, held the possession edge in 12 of 16 games and allowed opponents to convert 37 percent of their third downs.
Broncos Feel Like a Failure - Houston Chronicle - Arnie Stapleton, AP
Jan. 23, 2006 — Never mind the 13-3 regular-season record, the first-round bye, the pummeling of the Patriots in their first home playoff game since John Elway called it quits. After their stunning 34-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC title game Sunday, the Denver Broncos feel like failures _ especially those players who won Super Bowl rings with Elway. "Bottom line is that there were a lot of guys who were brought in here to win a Super Bowl," linebacker Keith Burns said. "You can pick out a few bright spots on the season, but to me it's a complete failure. Anything less than hoisting that Lombardi Trophy is a failure." Receiver Rod Smith also found it difficult to look on the bright side. "What's the difference? You don't make the playoffs or you make the playoffs and lose, it's all the same," Smith suggested after Denver's first loss at home all season. "If you don't win the whole thing, it's a failure. I'm not going to take anything away from them; they played a great game. But this is the way I live my life. If I don't get the prize, it's a failure." The Broncos simply found little consolation in their best run in the post-Elway era.
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