The Broncos acquire DT Gerard Warren from the Browns in exchange for a fourth-round pick. Warren spends two seasons anchoring the interior of the Broncos’ offensive line. Denver also re-signs guard Ben Hamilton, capping two weeks of negotiations.
ONE GAME AWAY …
The 2005 season was the Broncos’ best of the first decade of the 21st century. They went 13-3, finished with an undefeated home record in the regular season and won the AFC West for the first time since 1998. Quarterback Jake Plummer refashioned himself as “No Mistake Jake,” leading a balanced offense that was complemented by a swarming defense featuring one of the best secondaries in the game, led by Champ Bailey and John Lynch.
But the Broncos’ 46th season will also be remembered as the one that got away.
But it turned into the textbook example of an old cliche: “Be careful what you wish for; you might get it.”
“Pittsburgh came to us, and everybody was excited about that,” recalled wide receiver Rod Smith years later, “and I was like, ‘No. You’ve got to go play. It’s not about being excited about playing at home. It has nothing to do with that. You’ve got a football game. You can’t worry about all the other stuff.'”
“Honestly, I saw a lot of our younger guys kind of got lost in the fact that we had a home game, instead of getting lost in the fact of getting in that playbook, being focused, being disciplined on the things that we need to do as a team.”
Early in the game, opportunities for takeaways were lost. Eventually, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger began peppering the Broncos secondary with passes. Cornerback Darrent Williams was hurt and less effective than normal. And then, with the Steelers leading 17-3 and the Broncos needing to get to halftime and hit the reset button, Plummer tried to make a play — and instead made the kind of mistake he’d avoided all season, looking for Stephen Alexander in tight coverage. The pass was intercepted, and in short order, Pittsburgh held a 24-3 halftime lead.
A second-half rally petered out in a 34-17 loss that remains the Broncos’ most lopsided home playoff defeat.
“We were so close, and just picked a bad day for the whole team to have a bad day,” center Tom Nalen recalled seven years later.
Pittsburgh went on to beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XL. The Broncos sat at home, muttering about what might have been, not knowing the defeat was a harbinger of dark days to come. It would be nearly six years before the Broncos played another postseason game.