There’s a lot of emotion swirling inside any Broncos fan right now. A loss like this one feels raw, exhausting, and most of all, personal.
After all, we’ve been with this team for 19 games now. We’ve watched them set records, only to fall well short in the biggest game of the year.
But let’s face it, today was never meant to be the Broncos’ day. We need to accept that fact. The first play of the game was a self-induced safety. The first play of the second half was something I can only describe as completely bizarre.
But even without such alien abductions, the Seahawks were the better team.
In a game that called to mind the franchise's first four trips to the big game, the Broncos' record-shattering offense opened with a safety, gave the ball away another four times, and mustered up just one late and meaningless touchdown.
The game also bore a resemblance to the 40-10 result of the teams' preseason meeting, when the Seahawks used turnovers and big plays to romp.
They will face the Seattle Seahawks, who defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-17 in the NFC title game, and like Denver, were picked throughout the year to make it to the Meadowlands.
It's the Broncos' seventh conference championship, and their first in fifteen years.
All week long, the focus was on San Diego’s running game and propensity to dominate time of possession.
The Chargers had held the ball for 38:03 of the teams’ first meeting in Week 10, and for 38:49 in the rematch five weeks later.
The Broncos will host the Patriots next Sunday at 3pm ET in the AFC Championship, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl 48 in New Jersey against either Seattle or San Francisco.
After San Diego's thorough 27-10 victory at Cincinnati, the Chargers will travel to Denver to face the top-seeded Broncos at 4:40pm ET next Sunday.
These Broncos now own the NFL's single-season marks for points, touchdowns, first downs, and extra points, while Peyton Manning extended his touchdown pass record to 55, and owns the single-season yardage record by three feet over Drew Brees.
It's the seventh time (and second straight year) that Denver has claimed HFA.
It’s the first time in franchise history that Denver has won three straight division titles.
The Broncos also clinched a first-round bye in the process, and will claim home field advantage if the Patriots lose or tie at Baltimore.
The Broncos are again in control of the AFC playoff picture, thanks to Miami's (8-6) riveting 24-20 win over the visiting Patriots (10-4).
New England had a chance to move into the AFC's #1 seed with a win, but a late touchdown drive by Ryan Tannehill won the game for Miami.
Tom Brady led his team down the field in the final minute, but ultimately ran out of downs, and Michael Thomas intercepted his fourth-down pass in the end zone.
San Diego’s defense entered the game ranked dead last in overall efficiency according to Advanced NFL Stats, but they held Denver’s record-breaking offense to its lowest output of the season, in terms of both points and yards (295).
Their previous lows had been 27 points against KC in Week 11, and 397 yards against these same Chargers in Week 10.
Another day, another record-setting performance for the Broncos (11-2). Another year, another playoff berth for John Fox’s squad.
Last week, Eric Decker set a new team mark for touchdown receptions in a game. Sunday, in the Broncos’ 51-28 (Gamebook) win over the visiting Titans (5-8), they established new marks for both their team and the league, clinching their third straight playoff berth along the way.
Matt Prater hit a 64-yard field goal to break the record for the longest in league history, and the Broncos racked up 39 first downs, their most in franchise history.
Their 515 points are the most of any Broncos team; the prior record of 501 was set by the 1998 tite squad.