I have heard a lot of Broncos fans refer to yesterday's loss as the "worst since 1996" when the Broncos were defeated in similar fashion by the underdog Jacksonville Jaguars. Frankly, all we can hope for is that the parallels being drawn between the two games hold up.
The '96 loss was devastating, but it was also a precursor to a legendary run. The Broncos emerged from that defeat to win back to back Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. John Elway iced a hall of fame career and Broncos Country was never the same.
Two Lombardi trophies grace the halls of Dove Valley. It's possible that neither of them would be there if Jacksonville hadn't come in and shocked the Broncos in that playoff game. Championship teams are forged in steel, molded by heat and pressure and disappointment.
The 2007 Broncos were fueled by painful memories. They were dedicated to not repeating the mistakes of the past. John Elway was nearing the end of his career and the team knew that it's window was closing.
This Broncos squad is no different. Peyton Manning has not got long left. If he is going to add a ring to his other hand he needs to do so soon. And, once he is gone, the Broncos will be back to the drawing board. They're near future in in Peyton's hands, but their distant future is less clear.
The Broncos must return in 2013 less confident and more dedicated. They must lay it all on the line to win, not assume that things will eventually work out. They are a better team than the Baltimore Ravens, but the Ravens left it all out on the frozen Mile High Field. The Broncos didn't. Next year the Broncos need to go for broke.
Could yesterday's crushing loss be a catalyst for future championships? If their premature exit from the playoffs indeed mimics 1996 the answer is yes. But they can take nothing for granted.
The AFC West is likely to be theirs again in 2013. The rest of the division has a long way to go to get healthy. Two teams, the Chiefs and the Chargers, are starting over. The Broncos window remains open.