The 2012 Playoffs start today, and even though the Broncos don’t play this weekend, this weekend’s AFC games will decide who the Denver Broncos will host next weekend in the divisional round. Many Bronco fans are already assuming next weekend will be an easy victory for the Broncos; securing them a spot in the AFC Championship hosted in the Mile High City, if Denver makes it to that point. Given the way the Broncos have played the last couple of months, it is easy to see why fans feel that way; however, there are no guarantees in this league, and to overuse a cliché once again, on any given Sunday any team can beat another team, especially in the NFL. In an attempt to keep my enthusiasm and cockiness in check, I can’t help but think about the 1997 divisional playoff game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Denver Broncos. The Broncos were picked by many to win their first Super Bowl that season, but Jacksonville came into the old Mile High Stadium and upset the Broncos 30-27. Continue reading for an overview of the game that caused many Bronco fans, myself included, a level of disbelief seldom experienced when it comes to the Denver Broncos and the playoffs.
Following a 30-27 victory over the Buffalo Bills a week earlier, the fifth seeded Jacksonville Jaguars made the trip west to face the one seeded Denver Broncos. Considering Denver finished the 1996 season with a 13-3 record, were coming off of an off week, and were paired against a team only in their third year of existence, many considered this game to be a warm-up for the Broncos before the AFC Championship. After the first quarter, the Broncos had a 12-0, thanks to a one yard touchdown run by Vaughn Hebron and an eighteen yard touchdown pass from John Elway to Shannon Sharpe. Looking back, maybe it was a sign of things to come, considering the PAT after the first touchdown failed and the two point attempt after the second touchdown was unsuccessful. It certainly appeared the pre-game analysis was correct, and the Broncos would coast to an easy victory and earn a ticket to the AFC Championship. The problem was the game was four quarters long, and Jacksonville obviously wasn’t going to lie down for anyone or any team.
In short, the Jaguars owned the Broncos and the scoreboard when it came to the second and third quarters. Down twelve points entering the second quarter, the Jaguars battled back to take the lead 13-12 by kicking two field goals of forty plus yards around a short touchdown run by Natrone Means. Jacksonville extended their lead in the third quarter when Mark Brunnell connected with Keenan McCardell for a thirty one yard touchdown pass. The Jacksonville touchdown pass, which was the only scoring of the third quarter, gave the Jaguars a 20-12 lead entering the fourth quarter; it probably gave the Bronco fans a feeling in their stomachs that this game wasn’t going the way they expected it to!
Following another Jacksonville field goal early in the fourth quarter, the Broncos finally stopped the Jacksonville scoring and added points of their own when Terrell Davis scored a touchdown on a short run. Following the touchdown, Davis also completed the two point conversion, bringing the Broncos within three points, 23-20. Any momentum the Broncos gained by narrowing the Jacksonville lead was soon lost when Brunnell completed his second touchdown pass of the afternoon when he hit Jimmy Smith for a sixteen yard scoring play, giving Jacksonville a ten point lead with just over three-and-half minutes remaining in the game. Elway added a fifteen yard touchdown pass to Ed McCaffrey after the two minute warning, bringing the Broncos to within three; they were unable to get any closer, ending their season, and another shot at their first Super Bowl.
The Jacksonville loss, as difficult as it was to go through, served as a spring board for the 1997 season that ended with the first of two consecutive Super Bowl wins. This year’s team is far removed from the team that lost to Jacksonville in 1997, but there are eerie similarities – 13-3 record, number one seed, high expectations, etc. If I were John Fox, I would show the current Broncos a recap of the Jacksonville debacle and warn them to not take anyone lightly and to never look past the current opportunity or task; beat whichever team comes to the new Mile High on January 12th. Hopefully, if the team executes at a level they’ve done recently, and they take it one game at a time, they will have three games remaining!
Go Broncos – win on January 12, 2013!