Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway was swift in his narrative of the Broncos’ upcoming return to postseason football – just five days from now, when they will take the field against the Chargers in Sunday’s AFC Divisional Round Playoff game. After all, the Hall of Fame quarterback has certainly seen his share of playoff football over the years.
Elway discussed Sunday’s game with Chris Hall of Broncos TV during his weekly Elway Access podcast – presented by US Bank FlexPerks – noting that part of what makes the NFL playoffs so exhilarating is that they represent a culmination of sorts for all of the work that has been undertaken throughout the last 12 months.
“This is the exciting time of the season – where you get to the point where you’re in the playoffs,” Elway said. “This is what the team has started working (towards) since April, what the personnel side – we’ve started doing since last January, when the last game was over, to try to improve this football team and get back where we are right now. It’s a very exciting time of the year, so I really can’t wait until we get out there on Sunday.”
And for the Broncos, it also marks a return to the place where their 2012 campaign came to a disappointing conclusion – a return that Elway noted the team had to earn by notching its second consecutive 13-3 regular-season record and its third-consecutive AFC West title, and a return that has given the Broncos another opportunity to pursue their postseason aspirations.
“As the great (Vice President of Corporate Communications) Jim Saccomano said after (the Broncos’ 34-14 win over the Raiders in Week 17), he said, ‘You know what, last year we pushed the rock up the hill and then the first round of the playoffs, we let it roll back down the hill,’” Elway said. “And again, we’ve pushed that rock back up to the hill again and got it in the same position, which has been a tremendous job by the team and the coaching staff. Hopefully we can take advantage of that situation where we are now.”
Awaiting the Broncos is a Chargers team that defeated the Bengals 27-10 in Cincinnati during the AFC Wild Card Round last Sunday – stringing together a turnover-free performance that Elway circled as a key factor to playoff success.
“Well, I think they controlled the football and they didn’t turn it over,” Elway said. “That is the key thing in playoff football – if you can control it.”
“They controlled the football and Cincinnati turned the ball over,” he added. “San Diego got that lead, the weather got bad and they didn’t make any mistakes. And that is what they did against us last time. They controlled the football against us last time. And I will say this, we did not play our best football game of the year.”
In referencing the Broncos’ 27-20 loss to the Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Week 15 – a game in which the Chargers held a nearly 17-minute advantage in time of possession and forced the only turnover of the evening – Elway pointed out that Denver will need a better performance in Sunday’s game against a San Diego team that has won five straight games.
Coming out on the wrong end of the last meeting between the teams, however, is something that Elway said could serve as a beneficial reminder of what it will take to win on Sunday.
“We’re always looking for positive things,” he said. “As you said, the three (other) teams left in the (AFC) playoffs all beat us. I don’t look at that as a negative. I look at that as a positive in the fact that we know that we’re going to have to go out and play our best football to continue to do what we want to do.”
Elway is no stranger to finding motivation in losses, particularly postseason disappointments. After an agonizing 30-27 loss to the Jaguars in the 1996 AFC Divisional Round ended a 13-3 campaign and crushed yet another bid for an elusive Super Bowl title, Elway and his Broncos teammates were forced to endure another offseason of thinking about what slipped through their fingers.
They responded by winning back-to-back Super Bowl championships – traveling a course that Elway noted reminds him of the one that this Broncos team is trying to replicate one year after their 38-35 double-overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Ravens.
“You know, in looking back at my career and what happened to us in 1996, 1997 and 1998 – to me, there are a lot of parallels to it,” he said. “Especially after 1996, with the homefield advantage wrapped up. But the next year, we end up going 12-4 and we get Jacksonville back here in the first round to add to that incentive. So now we get the Chargers.”
He was quick to add, however, that those parallels don’t guarantee a similar result for this Broncos squad.
“I like the positive comparisons that I can make to those years, but that doesn’t win us football games,” he said.
Any success will have to be earned on the field – and, after enduring a tumultuous 12 months in returning to the postseason, Elway said he believes these Broncos are ready to write the final chapter of their season.
“There have been a lot of ups-and-downs and that is where I am really proud of this team – the fact that they’ve handled the adversity the way that they have,” he said. “I think they’re ready and we’re hopeful that we can go play like we’re capable of.”