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.

2014 schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/7 Indianapolis Colts 31-24
9/14 Kansas City Chiefs 24-17
9/21 at Seattle Seahawks (OT) 20-26
10/5 Arizona Cardinals 41-20
10/12 at New York Jets 31-17
10/19 San Francisco 49ers 42-17
10/23 San Diego Chargers 35-21
11/2 at New England Patriots 21-43
11/9 at Oakland Raiders 41-17
11/16 at St. Louis Rams 7-22
11/23 Miami Dolphins 39-36
11/30 at Kansas City Chiefs 29-16
12/7 Buffalo Bills 24-17
12/14 at San Diego Chargers 22-10
12/22 at Cincinnati Bengals 28-37
12/28 Oakland Raiders 47-14
1/11 Indianapolis Colts (Divisional Playoff) 13-24

2014 offense

Pos Player Starts
QB Peyton Manning 16
RB C.J. Anderson 8
RB Montee Ball 3
RB Ronnie Hillman 4
WR/KR Andre Caldwell 2
WR Emmanuel Sanders 16
WR Demaryius Thomas 16
WR/PR Wes Welker 8
OT/TE Chris Clark 5
OT/TE Paul Cornick 3
TE Virgil Green 9
TE Julius Thomas 10
C Will Montgomery 8
C/G Manny Ramirez 16
LT Ryan Clady 16
G Orlando Franklin 16
G/RT Louis Vasquez 16
K Brandon McManus
K Connor Barth
PR Isaiah Burse
KR Omar Bolden

Record: 12-4
First Place, AFC West

2014 defense

Pos Player Starts
DE/DT Malik Jackson 4
DE DeMarcus Ware 15
DE/DT Derek Wolfe 16
DT Terrance Knighton 16
DT Sylvester Williams 13
SLB Von Miller 16
MLB Nate Irving 8
MLB Steven Johnson 7
MLB Lamin Barrow 1
WLB Brandon Marshall 13
WLB Todd Davis 2
WLB Danny Trevathan 1
CB Chris Harris Jr. 16
CB Aqib Talib 15
CB Bradley Roby 2
S Rahim Moore 16
S T.J. Ward 15
S David Bruton Jr. 1
P Britton Colquitt