ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos rewrote plenty of records on their way to becoming the highest-scoring team of the Super Bowl era.
Now, they're going up against history, which hasn't been very kind to the league's high-octane offenses even in this era of aerial fireworks and scoreboard numbers that rise like slot machine jackpots.
Duplicating regular-season dominance in the playoffs is hard to do. Even harder is parlaying those piles of points into a championship.
If the Broncos (13-3) find a way to buck history, they'll join the 1999 St. Louis Rams as the only ones among the 10 highest-scoring teams since the first Super Bowl to win it all.
Even the "Greatest Show on Turf," which is last on the list at 32.9 points per game, needed one of the best defensive gems to seal the title: Mike Jones tackling Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line on the final play to preserve the Rams' 23-16 win over Tennessee.
Behind Manning's record 55 TD passes and an unprecedented five players who scored at least 10 touchdowns, the Broncos scored 606 points, surpassing the 2007 New England Patriots (589) for the most in NFL history.
After the Patriots averaged 36.8 points in an unbeaten regular season that year, Tom Brady was taken aback during Super Bowl week when Plaxico Burress predicted his New York Giants would win 23-17.
"We're only going to score 17 points?" Brady retorted. "OKaaaaay. I wish he would have said like 45-42 or something like that. At least he'd give us a little more credit for scoring a few points."
Burress was on to something, though. And it was his touchdown catch with 35 seconds left that gave the Giants a 17-14 win that prevented the Patriots from achieving perfection.
At 37.9 points per game, Denver had the second-highest scoring average of any NFL team, trailing only the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (38.8), who lost the NFL championship to Cleveland 30-28.
The Broncos probably could have broken that mark, too, but Manning sat out the second half of Denver's 34-14 win at Oakland last week after staking his team to a 31-0 lead.
Here's how the rest of the highest-scoring teams of the Super Bowl era fared in the playoffs:
- No. 3: 2011 Packers (35.0), lost 37-20 to Giants in NFC divisional round.
- No. 4: 2012 Patriots (34.8), lost 28-13 to Ravens in AFC championship.
- No. 5: 1998 Vikings (34.8), lost 30-27 in overtime to Falcons in NFC championship.
- No. 6: 2011 Saints (34.2), lost 36-32 to 49ers in NFC divisional round.
- No. 7: 1983 Redskins (33.8), lost 38-9 to Raiders in Super Bowl.
- No. 8: 2000 Rams (33.8), lost 31-28 to Saints in NFC wild-card round.
- No. 9: 1967 Raiders (33.4), lost 33-14 to Packers in Super Bowl.
Broncos Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas took one look at that list and noted that all of those teams didn't even reach their regular-season scoring average in their losses.
"Scoring points is just one facet of the game," Thomas said. "What we talk about is we have to play good in all three phases every game in this tournament if we want to be Super Bowl champions. It's not going to be enough for one phase of the game to go out there and perform well."
It's easy to look at the Broncos (13-3) lighting up the scoreboards and forget that Denver's much-maligned defense and special teams did their part, too.
Trindon Holliday had two TD returns early on, David Bruton and Steven Johnson each had blocked punts that led to short-field TDs, and Mitch Unrein sniffed out a fake punt that led to another easy touchdown.
Denver's defense also scored two TDs and had nine other takeaways that led to short-field touchdowns by Manning & Co. Another, an interception by linebacker Danny Trevathan at the Dallas 24 in Week 5, could have easily led to a TD. But Knowshon Moreno stopped short of the goal line so that the Broncos could eat up the rest of the clock and kick the winning field goal as time expired for a 51-48 win over the Cowboys.
"We're not even looking at the numbers anymore," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "We were No. 1 in the season. So, we need to come back and be No. 1 in the postseason. It's a team game. In order to win the Super Bowl, everybody has to do their job. We can't just have the offense carry this team to win the Super Bowl."
The Broncos are the AFC's top seed for the second straight season. Last year, they roared into January riding an 11-game winning streak only to lose to the Ravens 38-35 in double overtime.
"Remember the Ravens" has been their mantra ever since.
It's what drove front-office boss John Elway to sign free agents Louis Vasquez, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Terrance Knighton, Wes Welker and Shaun Phillips.
It's what prompted Manning to say on the first day of training camp that the Broncos had a collective scar from that loss.
"As painful as it was, I think you can learn from it," Manning said Thursday. "I think you can use it certainly to fuel you."
The Broncos will host a divisional-round game on Jan. 12 — exactly a year since their playoff pratfall.
"We won't overlook any of our opponents," Thomas pledged. "We're not just going to trot out onto the field and say, 'Hey, we're the Broncos. We're going to go ahead and win this game because we're here.' That's not the case. Last year, we learned that lesson."