Rolled by the Ravens
Broncos' hot streak ended at the wrong time
DENVER (AP) -- They won six games in a row to reach the playoffs, and, with one of the most potent offenses in the NFL, became a worrisome presence for the other postseason participants.
A combination of disbelief and disgust marked the players' mood Monday as they cleaned out their lockers, one day after losing 21-3 in a wild-card playoff game at Baltimore.
Playing with backups in starting roles finally caught up with the Broncos.
With quarterback Brian Griese sidelined by a lingering shoulder injury, Gus Frerotte was not up to the challenge. Frerotte was intercepted once, had four passes batted down, fumbled two snaps and was sacked four times for 34 yards in losses.
His longest completion was only 24 yards in a game that saw Denver manage only 177 total yards. It was the first time in 28 postseason games that the Broncos failed to score a touchdown.
Frerotte, who led Denver to only seven first downs before being replaced by Jarious Jackson late in the game, said, "I'm putting it all on my shoulders. I apologized to my teammates. I didn't get it done offensively. I'm bummed. You don't get to the playoffs very often, and when you do you have to make the most of it. I didn't do that."
Denver didn't mount an effective running game, either. Rookie Mike Anderson, who began the season as the third-string tailback but emerged to rush for 1,500 yards and win The Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honor, was held to 40 yards on 15 carries.
And Denver's defense didn't match the Ravens' defensive intensity.
Despite the sorry finish, 2000 will go down as a successful season for the Broncos, who rebounded from a 6-10, injury-riddled campaign in 1999 to go 11-6.
Particularly impressive was their six-game winning streak, which followed a demoralizing loss to Cincinnati that dropped the Broncos to 4-4. Their run included wins against the New York Jets, Oakland and New Orleans.
After stumbling at Kansas City and squandering a chance to win the AFC West, the Broncos rebounded to beat San Francisco 38-9 Dec. 23 in the final game at Mile High Stadium. Next season, the Broncos will move into a new $364 million stadium.
"The run we had from November to the end of December, that was fun," Anderson said Monday. "After the shaky start we had going into the bye week, we were able to turn things around and basically save our season."
Denver finished the regular season with the No. 2 offense in the league, averaging 30.3 points and 410.4 yards per game.
Despite missing six games and the playoff game with torn cartilage and a separation of his throwing shoulder, Griese was the league's top-rated passer.
Anderson's 1,500 yards ranked as the fifth-best performance by an NFL rookie, and he scored 15 touchdowns. Wide receivers Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith had 101 and 100 receptions, respectively, only the second time in league history that two teammates had reached that plateau.
Led by Pro Bowl-bound tackle Trevor Pryce, Denver's gambling defense was adept at forcing turnovers but also proved vulnerable to big plays and ranked last in the league against the pass.
Looking ahead to the 2001 season, the Broncos expect Terrell Davis (lower leg) and Olandis Gary (knee) to be recovered from their injuries, creating a glut at running back.
Griese is among several Broncos who will require offseason surgery. Having had shoulder problems for two consecutive seasons, his health remains a concern, which means signing a competent backup is essential. Frerotte is one of the team's seven unrestricted free agents, and he is expected to seek a starting opportunity elsewhere.
Of particular concern are the five starters who are unrestricted free agents.
The Broncos are hoping to sign offensive guard Dan Neil to a long-term contract before March 2. The others -- linebacker John Mobley, the team's leading tackler; fullback Howard Griffith, and cornerbacks Terrell Buckley and Ray Crockett -- are expected to test the market.
"I doubt I'll be back," said Crockett, who will be 34 Friday. "I have to see what other opportunities are out there."
Buckley wants to return to Denver. Mobley, while admitting his "feelings were hurt" when the Broncos failed to offer him a contract extension, said, "I'd like to be back."
Another free agent, backup tight end Byron Chamberlain, does not expect to return.
There also are some anticipated retirements, which could disrupt the offensive line. Guard Mark Schlereth and tackle Tony Jones both have hinted at retiring, although Jones is hedging. Line coach Alex Gibbs also is expected to retire.