The Broncos make another splash in free agency, signing Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward and DeMarcus Ware.
GOOD, BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH
With Peyton Manning still firing passes and a roster bolstered by the free-agent additions of safety T.J. Ward, edge rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders — all of whom made the Pro Bowl — the Broncos won their fourth consecutive AFC West title and finished 12-4.
Along the way, Manning set the league record for touchdown passes, hitting the mark with his 509th career scoring toss on a pass to Demaryius Thomas during a 42-17 win over the 49ers.
The defense was better thanks to Ward, Ware, Talib and the return of Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. from torn anterior cruciate ligaments. But down the stretch, the offense became less consistent, too often settling for field goals. The Broncos’ scoring average fell from 31.8 points per game in their first nine contests to 26.1 in their last eight. Worse, they became sloppier with the football. After turning the ball over just four times in their first seven games, they gave away the football 16 times in their last nine games — including four in a Monday night loss at Cincinnati that knocked the Broncos out of the race for the AFC’s top seed.
And throughout the season, the Broncos struggled in the tough tests on the road, losing all three road games they played against playoff-bound teams, falling 26-20 at Seattle, 43-21 at New England, and finally, to Cincinnati in Week 16.
It got no better in the opening round of the postseason. In a divisional round home game, the Broncos burst to a 7-0 lead, but the Indianapolis Colts hammered away and scored 21 of the next 24 points to take a lead they would not relinquish. A year after making it to the Super Bowl, the Broncos were handed a shocking 24-13 loss.
That ended the season. A day later, John Fox’s four-year tenure as head coach ended in a mutual parting of the ways. Fox had helped rebuild the Broncos from the ashes of a 4-12 season in 2010. But he couldn’t get them over the top.
A week later, the Broncos introduced the man they hoped would allow them to take the final step with Manning at quarterback, welcoming former backup quarterback and assistant coach Gary Kubiak back to his football home. Having replaced a coach who went 49-22 and won four division titles in four seasons, Kubiak’s task was simple, but massive: Win the Super Bowl and make sure the Manning Era didn’t end without a Lombardi Trophy.