From the start of the 2017 NFL season, it looked as if the Denver Broncos were destined to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
The team that led the NFL in scoring and total offense was the first in the history of the franchise to go 7-1 and make the playoffs.
The Broncos also went to the NFC Championship Game, which was played in Denver and had the most sellouts in NFL history.
And yet, the Broncos couldn’t beat the Seattle Seahawks.
The game featured a historic moment in NFL playoff history: Peyton Manning’s 37-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas with 1:16 left to give Denver a 27-24 lead with 6:23 left.
The Seahawks came in averaging 35.2 points per game.
Manning threw for more than 4,000 yards and rushed for at least 1,000 more, while Thomas added 1,865 yards and 14 touchdowns.
But after the game, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen said he was concerned the Broncos would be “sad” and the franchise might not make the Super Bowl again.
The quarterback’s reaction, however, did not change the fact that the Broncos were on the verge of winning the first of four consecutive Super Bowls.
The following week, after the Broncos had defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-17 in Super Bowl LI, Bowlen called for an end to the Broncos’ dominance in the AFC.
Bowlen was fired the following month.
On Sunday, in the fourth quarter of a 24-19 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Manning made a play that will be remembered for years to come: He threw a touchdown pass that bounced off the hands of Falcons defensive end William Moore, then to Thomas.
Thomas, who had been hurt during the game and didn’t dress for the game due to an undisclosed injury, finished with six catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
Thomas later tweeted: It’s been an honor playing with Peyton Manning and the Broncos.
I am forever grateful to the @Broncos organization, the city of Denver, my teammates, and fans for this honor.
I’m so happy to be able to share the time I spent with him and the @DenverBroncos.
pic.twitter.com/bKVzq8sJ1H — Thomas (@Thomas12) January 3, 2018As for Manning’s teammates, they are not happy with his reaction.
The Denver Post reported that defensive end Malik Jackson, linebacker Von Miller, defensive end Chris Harris, and cornerback Darian Stewart were all upset after watching the play.
“It’s a little harsh,” Miller told reporters on Monday.
“I can’t believe he did it.”
On Sunday night, Thomas called out the “cowardly” reaction from some of his teammates.
“If you don’t want to see your teammates in that situation, don’t do it,” Thomas said.