|9/10||at st. louis rams||10-18|
|9/17||kansas city chiefs (OT)||9-6|
|9/24||at new england patriots||17-7|
|10/22||at cleveland browns||17-7|
|11/5||at pittsburgh steelers||31-20|
|11/12||at oakland raiders||17-13|
|11/19||san diego chargers||20-48|
|11/23||at kansas city chiefs||10-19|
|12/10||at san diego chargers||20-48|
|12/17||at arizona cardinals||37-20|
|12/31||san francisco 49ers (OT)||23-26|
OVERSHADOWED BY TRAGEDY
The 2006 season was one of the most eventful in Broncos history — starting with the draft-day trade up to pick Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler just months after Jake Plummer had led the Broncos to the AFC Championship Game.
It began with the defense playing at a historic pace. In the first six games, coordinator Larry Coyer’s unit allowed just 44 points and two touchdowns. The point total is the best for any defense since 1977, and the touchdown tally is the best for any NFL team through six games since 1940. The Broncos were 5-1, and even though left tackle Matt Lepsis was lost to a torn ACL and Plummer’s numbers were down, the team looked like a serious contender.
Then, problems struck.
Finally, after back-to-back defeats in November dropped the Broncos to 7-4, head coach Mike Shanahan benched Plummer for Cutler. Plummer would not start again and after being traded to the Buccaneers in the following offseason, Plummer opted to retire after 10 NFL seasons.
The offense as a whole was struggling, particularly on the injury-riddled line. But as is so often the case, the quarterback took the blame, even though it was not a coincidence that the Broncos went 5-1 with Lepsis in the starting lineup that season and 4-6 without him.
Cutler had some flashes of brilliance, but he also looked like the rookie at times. The Broncos went 2-3 with him as a starter, including a season-ending 26-23 overtime defeat to the 49ers that knocked the Broncos out of the playoffs on a tiebreaker with the Chiefs.
But within hours of that final loss, the entire season was rendered meaningless after second-year cornerback Darrent Williams was shot and killed in the early hours of New Year’s Day while in the back of a limousine, dying in the arms of teammate Javon Walker. At just 24, Williams left behind a heartbroken family, a stunned city and a shattered team. Just 54 days later running back Damien Nash collapsed and died at his St. Louis home. The pall over the Broncos would linger throughout the following season.