Feb 3, 2014 10:00 AM by Greg Smith
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The sting of disappointment is unmistakable, but imprint of the long trail of accomplishments that the 2013 Denver Broncos left throughout this season remains equally as undeniable - as does the fact that those achievements will not be soon forgotten by Broncos fans.
The final chapter of the Broncos' season did not have the ending that the team had dreamed of - and worked so tirelessly towards since the start of OTAs last May.
But while Denver fell against Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII on a night when not much went right for the Broncos, the multitude that did go right for the Broncos throughout the season will remain etched as another chapter in the franchise's proud 43-year history.
"We've got a great football team," Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said after the game. "I'm proud of these guys."
"I'll remember this season as a great season," tackle Orlando Franklin said. "We were able to accomplish a lot of things in this league that a lot of people are not able to accomplish. That's how I'll remember it."
The pain of coming up short after traveling such a long road, of course, lingered on Sunday night as Denver stepped off the field at MetLife Stadium.
"It's disappointing for our entire team," quarterback Peyton Manning said. "We worked hard to get to this point. Overcame a lot of obstacles to be here. Put in a lot of hard work, did some really good things just to have this opportunity. But certainly to finish this way, it's very disappointing."
"Nobody wants to just come to the Super Bowl. Everybody wants to come and win it," defensive end Malik Jackson added. "It is very disappointing. It is very sad. But we're men, we'll take it well and we'll go home and recoup and get ready for next year."
The team came together for one final postgame locker room session, where Manning said that players spoke with one another and reflected on a season that had a sad conclusion - but also one that was marked deeply by the team's dedication and tireless efforts.
"Certainly, you have some individual conversations with the players that you battled through this entire season with," Manning said. "You put a lot of sacrifices, a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat into this entire season."
"Guys are disappointed," he added. "Guys put a lot into this season, put a lot into these past two weeks."
But while the Broncos weren't able to deliver their best effort in the season's final game, a whole list of monuments remain from a season when they so often were at their best.
"I'm still proud of what we were able to accomplish as a team this year," Franklin said.
There was the record-tying seven touchdown pass performance by quarterback Peyton Manning in the season opener against the Ravens on Sept. 5.
There were the six games when the Broncos scored 40-or-more points - including three when the Broncos reached the 50-point mark.
There was kicker Matt Prater's NFL record-breaking 64-yard field goal in a 51-28 win over the Titans in Week 14.
There were Manning's NFL single-season records for passing yards (5,477) and touchdown passes (55) that the quarterback set en-route to being named NFL MVP for a record fifth time in his career.
There was Denver's 26-16 win over the Patriots on a radiant January day at Sports Authority Field at Mile High that crowned the Broncos AFC Champions and sent them to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in franchise history.
And there was the unremitting spirit and resolve that pushed the Broncos on despite a handful of key injuries, the midseason absence of their head coach and the numerous other adversities they faced.
"It was a memorable season because of the guys that are on this team and the things that we went through - all the hard work and dedication that we put into it," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "We definitely came up short. That's going to hurt for a while, but I'm going to take away some of the good of just being with the fellas and just learning and understanding the game of football better by being over here. I'm definitely going to take that with me."
Even in the wake of disappointment, their story - and their achievements - live on.
"We had a tremendous year," Elway said. "We'll use this and hopefully learn from this and we're going to go at it again next year."
"I think I'll remember it as one of the most fun years I've had playing football," tight end Jacob Tamme added. "I really enjoyed playing with this group of guys. That's what really stinks about this feeling now. We won the AFC. That's not what we were looking to do. We did have a good year and we did have a good group of guys that I enjoyed playing with."