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Colts kick Broncos to another embarrassing ending

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ No defense. No difference. No doubt.

For the second straight season, the Denver Broncos saw their season end on the turf in Indianapolis, unable to stop Peyton Manning and the Colts.

This year, it was a 49-24 loss. Last year, the score was 41-10. Only the minor details changed. The overall picture Sunday was, again, a complete embarrassment.

``I've never been in a game where I felt so helpless,'' Broncos safety John Lynch said.

As their main offseason moves, the Broncos acquired Lynch and Champ Bailey in direct reaction to last year's debacle against the Colts. They thought those two Pro Bowlers would shore up a secondary that gave up 377 yards to Manning.

This year, Manning passed for 457 yards, about half of them against rookie nickelback Roc Alexander, who was on an island against receiver Reggie Wayne.

Like I've told people before, it's not just two guys, it's 11 guys,'' coach Mike Shanahan said.The only way you slow people down is 11 guys playing together.''

That never happened on either side of the ball.

Manning fell short of the perfect 158.3 passer rating he compiled in last year's game, but he did have 360 yards passing in the first half _ 23 more than he had in the first half last year. He wound up just 32 short of the NFL playoff record that Bernie Kosar needed double overtime to accumulate. So much for sending a message to flighty Colts receivers, the way Lynch thought Denver did during the trash-talking lead-up to the game.

I thought I could channel the energy and make it a positive,'' said Lynch, fined $75,000 by the NFL for an illegal hit on Colts tight end Dallas Clark last Sunday.But I'm drained. I dealt with so much crap. It's by no means an excuse for the way the team played.''

Manning's counterpart, Jake Plummer was well Jake Plummer. As always, he made some nice throws and put up some decent numbers, just as many quarterbacks who fall behind by 32 points at halftime do. He finished with 284 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a few more throws that could have been picked off.

He was, by no means, the real problem.

It was a total collapse by a defense that finished fourth in the league, but closed the season not forcing the issue, not making big plays, not really showing improvement over last year. It was a less-than-perfect effort from an offense that couldn't convert a third down or get into the end zone in the first half against the NFL's 29th-ranked defense.

``We just didn't get it done,'' Plummer said.

That was the understatement of the day.

The architect of the team is the same guy who coaches it _ Shanahan, who fell to 0-3 in the playoffs since John Elway retired after Denver's second straight Super Bowl win in 1998.

Since then, Shanahan is 54-45, the Broncos haven't won a division, haven't hosted a playoff game, haven't looked anything near the elite team they once were.

They finished this year 10-7, just like last year. They finished this year with a first-round drubbing by the Colts, just like last year.

Nobody seemed angrier about it than receiver Rod Smith.

What's the difference?'' he asked a reporter.What are the results? How do you think I feel?''

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