- The Washington Times - Friday, October 7, 2005

Contrary to perception, Denver didn’t fall off the map after Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway took his back-to-back Lombardi Trophies into retirement. After a disastrous season in 1999, the Broncos have survived quite nicely.

Heading into tomorrow’s showdown with surprising Washington (3-0), Denver leads the AFC West at 3-1, extending its post-Elway record to a solid 57-46. But the Broncos haven’t been able to get it done when it really matters. Unlike the other 10 teams that have at least equaled Denver’s success during the last seven seasons, the Broncos haven’t won a division title or even a playoff game.

That means that only seven current Broncos have experienced a playoff victory, let alone a Super Bowl triumph, in a Denver uniform. But most of them have experienced the 41-10 and 49-24 shellackings delivered by Indianapolis the past two seasons in the first round of the playoffs.

After the second of those ugly defeats, Denver coach Mike Shanahan decided the 2004 additions of Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, rugged safety John Lynch and rookie linebacker D.J. Williams hadn’t done enough to upgrade his defense despite its top-10 rankings in points, yards, rushing yards and passing yards allowed.

Shanahan had many wondering when he acquired three quarters of lowly Cleveland’s defensive line — end Courtney Brown and tackles Gerard Warren and Michael Myers — to go with Pro Bowl end Trevor Pryce. Former Broncos linebacker Ian Gold was brought back from Tampa Bay to play alongside mainstay Al Wilson and Williams. Nick Ferguson was promoted to replace departed free agent safety Kenoy Kennedy and second-round draft pick Darrent Williams surprisingly beat out former nickel back Lenny Walls to round out the secondary.

“Any time you make trades, people are skeptical,” Shanahan said. “We’ve added some good players. Any time you go to the playoffs and haven’t done anything, you keep on trying to improve. We felt we had to make some strides on defense.”

Since being embarrassed by Miami in its opener, the defense has made strides, allowing an average of just 246 yards and eight points in wins over Jacksonville and AFC West rivals San Diego and Kansas City. The Jaguars rushed for just 12 yards, although the Broncos were without the injured Bailey and Darrent Williams.

“If we’re still like this in Week 13, then I’ll buy into the hype,” said Pryce, remembering how 5-1 starts the past two years turned into 5-5 finishes and those routs by the Colts.

Denver’s offense hasn’t undergone as many changes. Backups Mike Anderson, Kyle Johnson and Cooper Carlisle have all become starters and tight end Stephen Alexander was imported from Detroit.

The passing game hasn’t been very productive, but the Broncos — a top-10 rushing offense in all but one of Shanahan’s seasons — are third in rushing this season. After gaining 115 yards against the Jaguars — his first 100-yard game since he was last the featured back in 2001 — Anderson is on pace for 1,068 yards which would make him the 10th 1,000-yard runner (five different backs) in Shanahan’s 11 years.

“I’ve had tremendous respect for Mike’s run schemes for years and years,” Redskins assistant head coach-defense Gregg Williams said of Shanahan.

The Broncos are 2-0 at home, extending Shanahan’s Mile High record to an impressive 67-19. The only coaches with more wins in their first decade with a team than the 53-year-old Shanahan’s 108 are John Madden and Hall of Famers Joe Gibbs and Don Shula.

Although it’s going on seven seasons since that last playoff victory, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen remains fully supportive of his coach. And Shanahan has no plans to leave.

“I’m still having fun,” he said. “In some ways it’s more fun then it was when we were winning Super Bowls because of the challenge of trying to get back there.”

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