From their first-ever loss in 1960 to last Sunday’s 50-point loss at Miami, the Broncos suffered some tough losses. The most decisive defeat: 2016 against the Chiefs.
DENVER – All week long, starting at about 2 p.m. MDT last Sunday, it’s been the same question.
Was the 70-20 loss at Miami the worst Denver Broncos loss you’ve ever seen?
Only in the point difference.
The number 70 is automatically one of the worst defeats of the regular season. The 50-point loss was the largest point differential in franchise history.
But there were other losses that were much more emotionally painful to bear. The Denver D didn’t belong on the same field as the speedy Dolphins last Sunday. Still, the Miami game is on the list because they became the only member of the dubious 70 and 700 club – the Broncos also gave up an NFL record 726 total yards of offense.
But it’s the losses where the Broncos could have won that hurt more. Here are some of the worst losses in Broncos history:
Worst first defeat ever
Week 3, 1960, New York Titans 28, Broncos 24
After a 2-0 start, the AFL startup Broncos were welcomed to the Polo Grounds by a new receiver named Lionel Taylor, who caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Frank Tripucka and scored 24 with 2:55 left. 21 lead in the fourth quarter. Denver’s defense intercepted Titans QB Al Dorrow on the next series and seemingly secured the victory.
But the Titans blocked a punt by George Herring, who had to deal with a low snap, and a guy named Roger Donnahoo returned the ball 12 yards for a touchdown with 15 seconds left.
The most unexpected loss
The playoff loss in Jacksonville, 1996 season
The Broncos had secured first place in the AFC playoffs with a record of 12-1 in 13 games. Head coach Mike Shanahan rested his starters for much of the last three games, and the team wasn’t great in the second-round playoff game against the second-year expansion Jaguars, losing 30-27 despite leading 12-0 went.
“I just want to cry,” tight end Shannon Sharpe said after the game. “I want to go home, sit on the couch and cry. …It won’t take a few days for us to get over this. That could take years.”
As it turns out, Sharpe was a bit dramatic. (A trait that served him well in his second career). The Broncos got through it. They won their next two Super Bowls in 1997-98. It should have been a threepeat.
The worst loss
The Flacco Fling, playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, 2012 season
Entering the postseason, the Broncos had won 13 straight to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Thanks to two touchdown returns (90-yard punt, 104-yard kickoff) from Trindon, they were ahead 35-28 with 40 seconds left in the regular season. Baltimore still had a long way to go from its own 30 yards. Denver fell back into a prevent defense, but safety Rahim Moore misjudged a sky-high 70-yard throw from Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco. The pass landed in the arms of Jacoby Jones, who strolled in for the game-winning touchdown while Moore stumbled backwards.
With the temperature as low as 9 degrees — dangerously cold for quarterback Peyton Manning’s nerve-damaged right arm — Broncos head coach John Fox controversially knelt at his own 20-yard line to break regulation.
Late in the first overtime, Peyton Manning was intercepted at the Denver 45-yard line when he threw it across his body to Brandon Stokely. Four Ray Rice runs later, Baltimore rookie kicker Jason Tucker hit a 47-yard field goal to stun the heavily favored Broncos. The Ravens won Super Bowl 47.
The most humiliating loss
Super Bowl XLVIII, 43-8, Seattle, 2013 season
Think of all the great offenses – the Van Brocklin/Waterfield 1950 Rams, the Montana-Rice 49ers, Marino and the Marks Brothers in 1984, The Greatest Show on Turf in 1999, Manning, Harrison, Wayne, Edgerrin and Stokley in 2004, Brady and Moss in 2007, the Mahomes-Kelce Chiefs.
Peyton Manning and the 2013 Broncos were better than anyone.
Manning threw 55 touchdown passes in 2013, a record that still stands 10 years later. He threw for 5,477 yards, a record that still stands. The Broncos scored 606 points, a record that still stands.
And on the first play of the Super Bowl, Broncos center Manny Ramirez fired the snap past an audible Manning into the end zone for the save. The Super Bowl was played in New York. It was 22-0 before the queso could be served at halftime.
On the first kickoff of the second half, Seattle’s Percy Harvin scored an 87-yard touchdown. All of these Super Bowl partygoers made their way to the front door exits. It was 36-0 before Manning threw a touchdown to Demaryius Thomas on the final play of the third quarter.
The NFL’s greatest offensive season was over.
The second most humiliating loss
Super Bowl XXIV, 49ers 55, Broncos 10
Another game where the Broncos didn’t belong on the same field as Montana and Rice. Montana was 22 of 29 for 297 yards and 5 touchdowns. Rice had 147 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
Broncos quarterback John Elway was 10 of 26 for 108 yards and two interceptions for a passer rating of 19.4, his worst since his rookie year. He was fired four times. The score was 27-3 at halftime and the final score of 55-10 was reached one minute into the fourth quarter. This was also the Broncos’ third Super Bowl loss in four years. The nation was fed up with them. Unfortunately for the nation, the Buffalo Bills were next.
The third most humiliating loss
Super Bowl XII, Cowboys 27, Broncos 10
All this hectic bronkomania. The Orange Swarm. Paint the city orange. Beat the mighty Steelers in the playoffs in front of a roaring, sellout crowd at old Mile High Stadium. Beat the mighty Raiders in the playoffs in front of a sold-out crowd at old Mile High Stadium.
And then a dud. Against the dominant Dallas defense, Broncos quarterback Craig Morton was under fire, completing just 4 of 15 for 39 yards with four interceptions. It wasn’t until Rick Upchurch returned a kickoff 67 yards to the Dallas 26 midway through the third quarter that the Broncos were able to score a touchdown.
The fourth most humiliating loss
Super Bowl XXII, Washington 42, Broncos 10
Almost no more humiliating Super Bowl losses (I don’t want to include the XXI loss to the Giants. That wasn’t humiliating.)
A bomb from Elway to third-stringer Ricky Nattiel gave the Broncos a 7-0 lead less than two minutes into the game. Then it was 10-0 for the Broncos.
And then 35 unanswered points in the second quarter by quarterback Doug Williams and a couple of running backs named Timmy Smith.
Most franchise momentum-altering losses
Chiefs 30, Broncos 27, OT, Game 11, November 27, 2016
The Broncos had won five consecutive AFC West Division titles earlier this season and were 7-3 after a bye week. The Chiefs also had a record of 7-3, so the winner of this game would clinch the decision to win the division.
Trevor Siemian, Peyton Manning’s first replacement, threw a 78-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass to Bennie Fowler with exactly three minutes left to give the Broncos a 24-16 lead. Broncos veteran cornerback Aqib Talib lifted Siemian into the air in celebration.
But Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith led a 75-yard drive that ended at the Broncos’ 14-yard line on fourth-and-10 with 19 seconds left. Remember, the Chiefs not only needed a touchdown, but also a 2-point conversion.
Smith hit rookie receiver Tyreek Hill – who had previously returned a free kick 86 yards for a touchdown – for an 11-yard completion to defensive back Bradley Roby, who was playing just over 10 yards from the line. First and goal on the 3rd
Smith then connected with Hill for a 3-yard touchdown – initially Hill was brought down short of the end zone, but replay reversed the decision. Smith hit Demetrius Harris for the 2-point conversion.
In overtime, Broncos kicker Brandon McManus hit a 44-yard field goal on the first drive, but the Chiefs answered with a field goal of their own on the next drive, tying the score at 27-27.
With 1:08 left in overtime, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak, unwilling to settle for a tie, had McManus attempt a 62-yard field goal. McManus kicked the ground in front of the ball and missed it. The Chiefs got the ball at the Broncos’ 48-yard line and Smith again hit Hill for 11 yards and Travis Kelce for 16 yards. Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos was sent off the field for a 34-yard field goal attempt with five seconds left.
Good. That was the second of 15 straight wins for the Chiefs and they won their first of seven straight AFC West titles in the 2023 season. The Broncos, the reigning Super Bowl 50 champions, suffered a four-game losing streak in five games and have never made the playoffs since. At 0-3, the Broncos will have to improve quickly to avoid losing for the seventh straight season.
This from a franchise that had more Super Bowl appearances (8) than losing seasons (7) during the 44-year period from 1973 to 2016.
After the 2016 season, the Chiefs moved up from No. 27 overall to No. 10 and selected quarterback Patrick Mahomes II. The fates of each franchise, the Chiefs and the Broncos, can point to November 27, 2016, when everything changed.
The most one-sided loss
Dolphins 70, Broncos 20, Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium
It was actually a not-so-embarrassing 42-13 game with less than a minute left in the third quarter. But the Dolphins scored 28 points in 7½ minutes, tied for the second-most points in NFL regular-season history – just 2 points fewer than Washington’s 72 points in 1966 against the New York Giants.
The Dolphins also totaled an NFL record 726 yards of offense.
The 50-point margin was the largest loss in the Broncos’ 64-year history.
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