Rebuilt Broncos Still Tough

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Contrary to perception, Denver didn't fall off the map after Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway took his back-to-back Lombardi Trophies into retirement. After a disastrous season in 1999, the Broncos have survived quite nicely.

Heading into tomorrow's showdown with surprising Washington (3-0), Denver leads the AFC West at 3-1, extending its post-Elway record to a solid 57-46. But the Broncos haven't been able to get it done when it really matters. Unlike the other 10 teams that have at least equaled Denver's success during the last seven seasons, the Broncos haven't won a division title or even a playoff game.

That means that only seven current Broncos have experienced a playoff victory, let alone a Super Bowl triumph, in a Denver uniform. But most of them have experienced the 41-10 and 49-24 shellackings delivered by Indianapolis the past two seasons in the first round of the playoffs.

After the second of those ugly defeats, Denver coach Mike Shanahan decided the 2004 additions of Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, rugged safety John Lynch and rookie linebacker D.J. Williams hadn't done enough to upgrade his defense despite its top-10 rankings in points, yards, rushing yards and passing yards allowed.

Shanahan had many wondering when he acquired three quarters of lowly Cleveland's defensive line - end Courtney Brown and tackles Gerard Warren and Michael Myers - to go with Pro Bowl end Trevor Pryce. Former Broncos linebacker Ian Gold was brought back from Tampa Bay to play alongside mainstay Al Wilson and Williams. Nick Ferguson was promoted to replace departed free agent safety Kenoy Kennedy and second-round draft pick Darrent Williams surprisingly beat out former nickel back Lenny Walls to round out the secondary.

"Any time you make trades, people are skeptical," Shanahan said. "We've added some good players. Any time you go to the playoffs and haven't done anything, you keep on trying to improve. We felt we had to make some strides on defense. …