INDIANAPOLIS -- Now into his third year as the Denver Broncos' Executive Vice-President of Football Operations, John Elway is more excited about running the team he once defined as a quarterback than he's ever been. Coming as his franchise did off a 13-3 season in which quarterback Peyton Manning exceeded the highest possible expectations after multiple shoulder surgeries. Elway now balances two things -- knowing that the hay is in the barn from a personnel perspective in many regards, and the awareness that a first-round exit from the playoffs can't happen again.
"I feel much better standing here now than I did two years ago about where we are as a football team"Elway said from the scouting combine on Friday. "I think that the way I look at it is that we have to continue to get better because everyone else in this league is going to get better. 13-3 is not good enough. It was nice, we won the division and had home field [advantage], but when you lose in the first round in the playoffs, you know you have to get better, whether it be better playing not only in the regular season, but we have to learn how to play in the postseason.
"Learning how to play in the postseason is huge. That’s why the experience that we went through this year is so important. If we have the opportunity to have ourselves in the same position or get back in the playoffs and how we approach that is huge. That’s what makes a difference. You can be good in the regular season. I said it during the year last year -- we make our money in the regular season, [but] you make your legacy in the postseason as a player.
That’s why what we went through and what we experienced in the first round is so important.”
Elway compared that 38-35 double overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens to the Broncos' 1996 first-round loss to the upstart Jacksonville Jaguars. In each of the next two seasons, the Broncos won the Super Bowl, and Elway's status as one of the all-time great quarterbacks was solidified. Now, it's the new team's turn.
"I was just talking to someone out there, talking about [forgetting] last year," Elway said. "I don’t want to forget last year. I don’t want our team to forget it. I want them to realize it was a great year, but also don’t forget that feeling of what happened in the playoff game. Be able to learn from that. Hopefully we can build on it and get better from it, as we did in ’96. ’97 and ’98 were good years for us, so I’m hoping that we can learn like we did back then with this experience. I’m hopeful.
"We’ve got a good football team, so we think that we’ll continue to build on that and see what happens.”
Of course, that all starts in the short term with Manning.
“I think he met the expectations," Elway said of his quarterback. "He probably exceeded them. If you look at the numbers, what he did, he had a tremendous year. In talking to different guys that have kind of been through what he’s been through when it comes to that neck, there’s a lot more to it than I think that I knew, as well as what a lot of people know, having to go through that and come back from that.
In that case, I think he exceeded the expectations. Now that I know what he had to go through and the things that he had to overcome with that neck, not so much physically, but mentally, he did a tremendous job in the way he worked at it. So when I say he met, I should probably rephrase that and say he exceeded that. But I’m looking forward to next year, too. I think he’s just going to continue to get better.”
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