EDITOR'S NOTE: The following was the cover story in the Gameday program from the AFC Divisional Round playoffs on Jan. 12, when the Broncos defeated the Chargers 24-17.
For the seventh time in franchise history, the Broncos are the AFC's No. 1 seed entering the playoffs.
Along the way, records were broken, adversity was overcome and the AFC West was won for the third straight year.
With the Broncos set to host a playoff game for the third consecutive year, we take a look back at the 2013 regular season, quarter-by-quarter.
The Broncos' first four games of the season set the tone for what would become a record-breaking offensive output in 2013.
It didn't take long for the records to begin to fall.
All eyes were on the Mile High City as the Broncos and Ravens kicked off the NFL season at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Thursday, Sept. 5.
The hometown crowd witnessed history as quarterback Peyton Manning began his record-setting season by tying an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in the Broncos' 49-27 win. Manning became the first player in 44 years to throw seven touchdowns in a game, setting a pace that he would keep up on his way to the top of the league's single-season touchdown leaderboard.
"It's incredible," Head Coach John Fox said of Manning's performance. "I mean I thought he was incredible a year ago. I've said it a million times - to sit out a year, come to a new city, all new teammates, a very unusual type of injury. And then this one was pretty phenomenal – seven touchdown passes and ties an NFL record."
The Broncos' 179 points in their first four games were the second-most in league history, topped only by the 1966 Dallas Cowboys. Denver topped the 35-point mark in all four games to open the season, including a franchise-record 52 points in Week 4 against Philadelphia.
"We are not anywhere near done with our body of work," Head Coach John Fox said after the Week 4 win against the Eagles. "We are one quarter into it. I'm pleased with where we are. Truth be told, you can't be better than 4-0 after four games. We'll just try to continue to prepare and do the things necessary to get ready for each week."
LEARNING FROM A LOSS
The Broncos ventured out of Denver for just the second time in 2013 to kick off the second quarter of the season and the result in Dallas turned out to be one of the most memorable games of the season.
The Broncos battled back from down 14 to claim a 28-20 halftime lead. With the game tied inside the final two minutes, linebacker Danny Trevathan picked off a pass allowing the Broncos to run down the clock and kick a game-winning field goal.
"I think it was a character win," Fox said after the 51-48 victory. "I'm very pleased with our team – it's a very tough environment to play, against a division-leading team for an opponent. I think any time you go on the road in this league you're happy to get out with a win."
The Broncos returned home and took care of business against Jacksonville in a game that featured Champ Bailey's season debut. But things wouldn't go as smoothly when the team hit the road again in Week 7 for Manning's return to Indianapolis.
The Colts welcomed him with a warm ovation but that's where the hospitality ended as the Colts claimed a 39-33 win – the Broncos' first regular-season loss since Week 5 of the 2012 season.
"We just have to be more consistent," Manning said later that week. "We did some good things at certain times but just weren't as consistent as we needed to be and that's what you have to do in order to win football games, especially on the road. I thought the mistakes that we made on offense were correctable, which is a good thing."
With lessons from the first loss filed away, the Broncos closed out the first half of the season with a 45-21 win against Washington and headed into the bye week at 7-1.
FIGHTING THROUGH ADVERSITY
More adversity hit the Broncos over the bye week, as Fox underwent heart surgery that kept him away from the team for a month.
In the meantime, Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio took over as interim head coach just in time for one of the toughest stretches of the season.
Up first was an AFC West tilt with the San Diego Chargers – a 28-20 Broncos victory that was spurred on by Demaryius Thomas' three touchdowns, giving Owner and CEO Pat Bowlen his 300th win in just 30 years.
Next was a battle with the then-undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. Denver put together five scoring drives against what was then the league's No. 1 scoring defense to come away with a 27-17 victory.
But there was no time to celebrate, as a trip to New England loomed. In what was nearly a mirror image of Denver's Monday Night Football win in 2012 in which it overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit to win in San Diego, the Broncos jumped out to a 24-0 lead in Foxborough, Mass.
But the Patriots came roaring back, and the Broncos held on to send the game to overtime. A special-teams miscue cost Denver the game – the only loss of the third quarter of the season.
Denver bounced back the following week, completing a sweep of the Chiefs, which would help secure the AFC West later in the season.
"I think what we went through the last month is really playoff level football and I think that's great experience for this football team as we go into the fourth quarter of the season," Del Rio said of his four games as interim head coach. "Now we get to welcome (Fox) back and hand him over a team that took care of business and it is sitting on top of the division right now with a month to go."
CLINCHING NO. 1
The road win at Arrowhead Stadium put the Broncos in the driver's seat to accomplish one of the team's goals at the onset of the 2013 season: winning a third-consecutive AFC West title, something unprecedented in the history of the franchise.
In order for that to happen, however, Denver would have to close out their final quarter on a strong note amidst a heated race in the AFC.
Against Tennessee in Week 14, Denver hit the 50-point mark for the third time of the season – but that wasn't the only history that was made in the Broncos' 51-28 win over the Titans.
On the final play of the first half, Matt Prater booted an NFL-record 64-yard field goal that sailed through the frigid Denver air and just over the crossbar – another snapshot from 2013.
And while Denver fell in its regular-season home finale against San Diego in Week 15, the team yet again showcased its resolve in battling back.
Denver rebounded at Houston in Week 16 with a 37-13 win that clinched the AFC West title – and provided yet another unforgettable piece of NFL history.
Manning threw four touchdown passes, including a 25-yarder to Julius Thomas with 4:28 to play that marked the quarterback's 51st of the season, setting Manning alone atop the NFL record books for single-season passing touchdowns. He would finish the year with 55 – and the single-season record for passing yards with 5,477.
"I really feel like it's a team accomplishment – certainly an offensive accomplishment," Manning said. "A lot of people played roles in this. I think it's a unique thing and a neat thing to be part of NFL history."
In Week 17 at Oakland, the Broncos wrapped up the top seed in the AFC Playoffs with their 13th victory of the season. Another accomplishment, but also a reminder that this team's work is anything but done.
"it's not easy to go back-to-back 13-3 (seasons), it's not easy to go back-to-back No. 1 seeds," Fox said. "Obviously, everybody in our building, our city, probably our region, maybe the country was disappointed with how we finished a year ago. Hopefully that has been a fire in the belly of most everybody in our building since that last January."