A year ago, Denver roared into the playoffs riding an 11-game winning streak and promptly lost for the first time in 98 days.
So much for momentum.
This year, the Broncos are again 13-3 and the AFC's top seed, two home wins away from the Super Bowl.
Only, they're far from the overconfident, sauntering unit they were at kickoff on that frigid day in Denver last January when the Baltimore Ravens would outlast them 38-35 in double-overtime.
For one thing, the team they're facing Sunday, the San Diego Chargers (10-7), beat them last month 27-20 in Denver, handing the high-scoring Broncos their only home loss of the season.
And the other teams left in the AFC playoffs also beat the Broncos this season, the Colts by six points in Peyton Manning's homecoming in October and the Patriots by a field goal in Wes Welker's return in November.
Terrell Davis, the current NFL Network analyst who led the Broncos to their last Super Bowl win following the 1998 season, said the Broncos would have been better off last year if they had lost a game or two in November and December.
"Last year, (I) just felt like they were winning games too easily and I always felt that there's something to be said about a quality loss," Davis said on a visit to Denver during training camp. "Not to say that you go out there and try to lose a game, but it's a chance for the team to refocus, recalibrate, look at the things that you've been sweeping under the rug because you've been winning games."
Coming off their first Super Bowl title, the Broncos started out 13-0 in 1998 before back-to-back losses to the Giants and Dolphins. They won their last game before sweeping through the playoffs to win another title in John Elway's farewell.
It's common for NFL teams that win to have "Victory Mondays," when players are excused from mandatory practices or film sessions. It's a chance for them to get both a physical and mental break.
But Davis pointed out the downside of winning regularly: Mistakes can get glossed over and it sometimes takes a loss to make adjustments. Good teams can go months without that opportunity.
Davis actually came to appreciate the Broncos' 20-16 loss to the Giants that ended their shot at perfection in '98 because it gave them a chance to reflect, reboot and rectify.
It's something the Broncos didn't have a chance to do last year when they won their last 11 after starting out 2-3.
This season, the Broncos lost a game in October, one in November and one in December.
"Victory Mondays" in Denver nowadays consist of team captains running the film sessions instead of coaches. But after a loss, it's the coaches harping on all the mistakes.
Wide receiver Eric Decker said errors look worse through the prism of a loss, and "you start to focus on details more. Maybe you correct certain things that in a win wouldn't look so bad. You just really dissect it way differently."
Losses have a way of galvanizing a team, too.
"Absolutely," Welker said. "A lot of times when you win, a lot of the mistakes get shoved under the rug and when you lose they kind of get amplified. You really need to be on top of that stuff and not have those mistakes week to week."
Tight end Jacob Tamme said the Broncos learned plenty from their loss last month to the Chargers.
"It taught us a lesson," Tamme said Monday. "We did kind of reboot after that and yes, I think we know that we need to play our best ball going forward and that's what we're planning on doing."
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