A classic football game was played on Saturday in Denver. Some team had to lose. When that losing team was the heavily favored No. 1-seeded Denver Broncos, fingers will inevitably be pointed in the aftermath.
The Broncos lost for a lot of reasons. They let the Baltimore Ravens receivers get deep too often. They couldn't run the football. Peyton Manning was intercepted twice, and the Broncos offense didn't consistently move the ball, scoring "only" 21 points in five quarters.
"The reality is, we had a good season. We got to the elite eight," coach John Fox said after the game. "I'd like to have been that team to hoist the trophy, but we're not."
The most inexcusable reason the Broncos lost: Fox played not to lose. He played like his quarterback was Jake Delhomme or Tim Tebow. He coached to his defense, which was not having a good day. Three examples come to mind:
1. The Broncos got the ball back with 36 seconds in the first half and three timeouts. They took a knee and went to halftime.
2. Leading by seven points, the Broncos had a third-and-7 with 2 minutes remaining. A first down there wins the game. They ran the ball to set up a punt. It's a defensible move, but you have the chance to put the game in Peyton Manning's hands. One play and it's over. If the play isn't there, trust Manning to take a sack or check it down to keep the clock moving. That's a situation Manning lives for. There's no one better.
3. After the Broncos gave up a 70-yard touchdown to Jacoby Jones after a terrible breakdown in the secondary, the Broncos had 31 seconds left to try to set up a game-winning field goal. Manning took a knee again.
None of this comes a surprise to folks that have watched Fox coach a long time. But it's a shame to not even try to win with Manning on his side. The Broncos didn't go out swinging. They went out hoping not to lose.
Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.