Denver was eliminated from the playoffs Sunday. The last time the Broncos played a game after being eliminated was 2002. In 2006, Denver was knocked out of the playoffs when it lost its final game. The three seasons before that, the Broncos qualified for the playoffs.
Although there was obvious disappointment going into a Monday night game against San Diego -- a game that before the season figured to be a key late-season matchup that could decide the AFC West -- the Broncos said they wanted to finish strong.
"Same thing I always do," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "We'll get a game plan ready, get our players ready to play Monday night."
There wasn't any shock about missing the playoffs. Since a crushing overtime loss to Chicago on Nov. 25, the Broncos knew they needed help. Denver's chances were practically buried in a lethargic 31-13 loss at Houston on Dec. 13.
Shanahan realistically knew that even if the Broncos somehow made the playoffs, their outlook was bleak.
"Even if you do get in, you're not going to do anything once you get there," Shanahan said. "You've got to be more consistent than we've been."
The younger players are still fighting for jobs in 2008, something Shanahan has made clear. The veterans might not be auditioning, but they say they want to play well the last two weeks.
Safety John Lynch said he was unaware the Broncos were eliminated until he was driving to practice on Monday.
"I should have put two and two together," Lynch said. "But sometimes when you're clinging to hope, you don't want to hear that. That's not fun to hear. But it's the reality, and you're at the stage of, 'What are you going to do about it now?'"
The Broncos could rally around finishing the season with a .500 record. Only once, in 1999, has Shanahan finished with a losing record as Denver's head coach.
"Nobody wants to have a losing record," cornerback Dre Bly said. "It starts with next Monday."
The Broncos won't be facing a Chargers team with much to play for. San Diego wrapped up the AFC West but can't get a first-round bye. The Chargers could rest some key players.
The Broncos won't change anything. Shanahan has said before that he wouldn't play younger players. The Broncos already are playing many young players because of injuries. Lynch said the first practice after the team was eliminated was no different than any other.
"It was business as usual," Lynch said.
SERIES HISTORY: 96th meeting. Broncos lead the series 52-42-1, but San Diego beat Denver soundly in the first meeting this year. On Oct. 7, the Chargers won 41-3, the worst home loss for the Broncos since 1966. San Diego has won three in a row against Denver.
--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said P Todd Sauerbrun, who was cited for simple assault on Dec. 7 after allegedly hitting a taxi cab driver in the back of the head, wasn't released because of that incident but because he was verbally abusive to police afterward.
"The way he talked to the officers and the way he handled that situation was very unprofessional," Shanahan said.
--S John Lynch has usually responded to questions about his future by saying as long as he felt good and still enjoyed playing the game, he would continue.
Lynch was a little more coy this week. Lynch has dealt with injuries this season, including a neck stinger that forced him to miss some time.
"My future right now is going to San Diego, playing a 'Monday Night Football' game," Lynch said. "That's all I'm really thinking about."
--The Broncos signed K Matt Prater on Wednesday. Although Jason Elam will be a free agent, coach Mike Shanahan said the move had nothing to do with that. Prater could handle kickoffs and perhaps get a chance to show if he can be a punter down the line.
"It has to do with us releasing Todd Sauerbrun and bringing in a couple of guys to compete to replace him," Shanahan said about signing Prater.
BY THE NUMBERS: 254 -- Games played by Broncos K Jason Elam, tied with QB John Elway for the team record. Elam will break the mark this week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You've worked through the offseason, and hopefully you finish strong." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos continue to change up the bottom of their roster. They put S Nick Ferguson on injured reserve because of a knee injury. Denver promoted S Roderick Rogers, an undrafted free agent from Wisconsin, from the practice squad. Marviel Underwood, who was signed a few weeks ago, was released.
Denver signed kicker Matt Prater, who could handle kickoffs, to the empty spot on the active roster.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--S Roderick Rogers has a chance to put himself in a good position if he gets a chance to play the final two weeks. The Broncos need young safeties they can groom for potential starting spots. Rogers, who was just promoted off the practice squad, won't play defense against San Diego but has a chance to make an impression on special teams.
--RB Andre Hall might not get much time at tailback the last two weeks, but the Broncos will almost certainly have a spot for him on next year's roster, and he could have a big role depending on Travis Henry's future.
--TE Chad Mustard should get a lot of playing time the last two weeks if Daniel Graham can't play because of an ankle injury. Mustard is a decent blocker and would probably play on running downs.
--DB Domonique Foxworth has played out of position at safety most of the year. The Broncos are doing so to get their best players on the field, but Foxworth probably isn't a long-term solution at safety. He was highly regarded as a nickel cornerback his first two seasons.
--LB Jamie Winborn has established himself as a top-notch special teams player this season. If Ian Gold can't play the final two games because of a knee injury, Winborn could get some early consideration to get a bigger role on defense in 2008 if he plays well in Gold's spot.
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