|9/7||Los Angeles Raiders||38-36|
|9/15||at Pittsburgh Steelers||21-10|
|9/21||at Philadelphia Eagles||33-7|
|9/28||New England Patriots||27-20|
|10/12||at San Diego Chargers||31-14|
|10/20||at New York Jets||10-22|
|11/2||at Los Angeles Raiders||21-10|
|11/9||San Diego Chargers||3-9|
|11/16||Kansas City Chiefs||38-17|
|11/23||at New York Giants||16-19|
|12/7||at Kansas City Chiefs||10-37|
|12/20||at Seattle Seahawks||16-41|
|1/4||New England Patriots (AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF)||22-17|
|1/11||at Cleveland Browns (AFC CHAMPIONSHIP)||23-20|
|1/25||New York Giants (SUPER BOWL XXI)||20-39|
The Drive, an AFC title and Elway’s arrival as a star
John Elway’s first three seasons saw glimpses of both brilliance and inconsistency. In most eras of football, this sort of early-career trajectory was typical for a star quarterback in the making; the immediate star like Dan Marino was unusual. But Elway already had a knack for game-tying and game-winning drives in the fourth quarter and overtime. In his first three seasons, he had 10 such games with those heroics.
Joe Collier’s defense offered a buffer for Elway’s growth in those early years. But by 1986, Elway was maturing, taking over, and more often starting to carry the entire team on his broad shoulders. In that season, he accounted for 21 touchdowns — 19 passing, one rushing and one receiving — as the halfback option pass from Steve Sewell to the Elway became a favorite bold gambit of young offensive coordinator Mike Shanahan, who joined the staff in 1984 and became coordinator a year later.
“I didn’t even see the ball. I barely saw the blur,” Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes told Sports Illustrated at the time. “He nailed me. Elway’s unstoppable. If he’s healthy, Denver goes 15-1. He does things I’ve never seen before, and I’ve got lots of film.”
Added Raiders linebacker Rod Martin: “The legs are like (Fran) Tarkenton’s. The arm’s all his.”
The complete package at quarterback carried the Broncos to their second AFC West title in three years and a divisional-round showdown with the New England Patriots. They won that game, 22-17.
A week later came one of the most memorable days in Broncos history: Jan. 11, 1987 at Cleveland Stadium, when Elway led “The Drive,” a 98-yard march through the Browns to a game-tying touchdown pass that set up a 23-20 overtime win.
They would lose Super Bowl XXI two weeks later, but they had returned to the league’s elite, and Elway had arrived as one of the true game-changers in the sport.