The cold, hard fact is the Broncos lost everything Saturday.
And they blew it.
They lost the overtime coin toss. They lost a cinch victory with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter by blowing coverage. They lost the game on an intercepted pass late in the fifth quarter. They lost the playoff game early in the sixth quarter on a 47-yard field goal.
They lost their chance at a ninth AFC championship game. They lost the opportunity for the franchise to win a third Super Bowl. Peyton Manning lost the prospect of playing a Super Bowl in his hometown of New Orleans and winning a second NFL championship.
The Broncos lost the lead four times. They lost two interceptions and a fumble, all Manning turnovers. They lost a dozen arguments with the officials. They lost a rare home playoff game.
The Broncos lost everything from the regular season in one historic postseason game. In a frozen conundrum on a Dr. Zhivago kind of day, in the chilliest and longest playoff game in Denver history, Ravens 38, Broncos 35.
Rather than Holliday, Hillman and the Hallelujah High Way, it was to Hades in a Handbasket.
Everybody shares the blame, but coach John Fox should get more than his share for his conservative approach.
After the Ravens shocked a bitterly cold crowd with a 70-yard balloon bomb from Joe Flacco to Jacoby Jones, with just over half a minute to go, to tie the game for the fifth time, at 35-35, the Broncos had the ball at their 20-yard line, had two timeouts and had the quarterback who had produced more winning drives in the fourth quarter than anybody else who ever played the game.
What did Fox choose to do?
He had Manning take a knee.
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Even though Matt Prater had Charliebrowned a field-goal attempt earlier, scuffing the ground before he kicked the football, the Broncos could have gotten him into range again by picking up about 35 to 40 yards in the final half minute of regulation. They had time and timeouts for six plays.
You don't want to go into overtime against anyone, but especially against a veteran team that had badly damaged the Broncos' defense four times in four quarters.
Anything can happen in overtime.
And the worst ultimately did.
It's one thing for Fox to order punts on fourth-and-1, or run out the clock at the end of a first half when he also had timeouts to spare. But it's entirely another to not take a legitimate crack at winning the game in regulation when you have Manning and those receivers and a kicker such as Prater.
Remember what happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers a year ago in a playoff game here? The Broncos, Tim Tebow and Demaryius Thomas beat them on the first play in an extra period. (Thomas caught what should have been the winning touchdown pass in the fourth quarter Saturday.)
In the last playoff game in Denver the unusual occurred. Fox had to know better.
But he surrendered with 30 seconds to go. Manning looked less than in agreement when he took the snap, dropped to a knee, tossed the ball to the referee and departed the field as the clock expired.
Thirty seconds can be an eternity for Manning.
The Broncos couldn't score in overtime, but stopped the Ravens. Then, when the Broncos appeared headed toward victory, Manning, rolling right, tried to thread a throw to Brandon Stokley back over the middle. The Ravens intercepted it.
The steam that rose from the mouths of 75,000 in the near-zero temperatures was the air going out of the stadium.
The plays weren't "Phantom of the Opera," "Wicked" and "Guys and Dolls," but they were big hits back in Baltimore.
The Ravens had only three plays worth anything in the first half and yet they were tied 21-21 at the break. All three went for touchdowns. The first was a 59-yard strike from Flacco to Torrey Smith. That was followed by an interception on a deflected pass for a touchdown, and Flacco and Smith again connected just before halftime. Otherwise, the Ravens would have been frozen out. Instead, they were tied.
The Ravens had only a couple of plays in the second half, but one went for 70 yards with 31 seconds left, and was really, in reflection, enough.
So it seemed they would score in the second overtime following the interception. The Broncos acted finished.
The Ravens did score, and the Broncos were finished.
And, just like that, one of the most successful seasons in Broncos history was over, and success had become failure.
All three teams on the field Saturday generally had issues. The Broncos, the Ravens and the officials, who acted suspiciously like replacements.
But the Broncos were the real losers.