While the San Francisco 49ers will go into this offseason with a flood of what-ifs, the New England Patriots -- Sunday's other loser -- can look at their AFC Championship Game defeat through different eyes.
While Peyton Manning looked laser sharp from the first series on, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady spent the first half throwing too many off-target passes, including a pair of costly third-down incompletions to little-used Austin Collie and Matthew Slater.
"We didn't do much of anything early in the game," Brady told reporters after the 26-16 tumble. "It was hard because we didn't complete the third downs. So then, it's hard to get into the run game. Two three-and-outs to start the game."
Said Brady: "When you play good teams, I think the margin of error is slim all day. We dug ourselves a pretty good hole there."
The Patriots' run game that rocked the Indianapolis Colts a week ago with 234 yards off 46 attempts managed just 16 yards in the entire first half against Denver's increasingly stingy run defense. Forced to go to the air, Brady arguably cost New England 10 first-half points with overthrown, wandering deep shots to Collie and Julian Edelman.
Not a huge surprise. This season, Brady had a 21.4 completion percentage on throws of 25-plus yards, ranking him 31st in the league in that category, per ESPN. Against the Broncos, Brady was forced to do things he no longer does well.
Across the way, Manning dismantled the Patriots with 400 yards passing off 32 completions split between eight different targets, leaving Brady only to say: "They played great. ... They got a very good offense -- probably the best offense in NFL history."
Not probably. Definitely.