DENVER - John Elway has been down this lonely road before, trudging through the tunnel in deafening silence after a stunning loss at home as the AFC's prohibitive Super Bowl favorite following a 13-3 regular season.
It happened to Elway the quarterback after the 1996 season when Denver lost to Jacksonville 30-27. It occurred again for Elway the executive in January when the Broncos were beaten 38-35 by Baltimore in the divisional round.
Elway rebounded the first time to win back-to-back Super Bowls. He said the pain of that pratfall against the Jaguars was the impetus to make them into champions.
"It was a great incentive for us to come back and have an even better year the following year," Elway said.
After engineering a $125 million offseason spending spree and acquiring wide receiver Wes Welker and massive right guard Louis Vasquez - to help new center Manny Ramirez fend off the likes of Ravens nose tackle Haloti Ngata - Elway is aiming for history to repeat itself after this latest heartbreak.
Below is one thing to watch for as the Broncos kick off the season Thursday against the champion Ravens:
As a former special teams coordinator, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he had "reluctant admiration" for Trindon Holliday, who piled up an NFL-record 248 yards in returns against the Ravens in January.
Denver's diminutive returner became the first NFL player to take back both a punt and a kickoff for TDs in a playoff game. Those touchdowns were the longest punt (90 yards) and kickoff (104 yards) returns for scores ever in the postseason.
Of course, Holliday was a footnote when Jacoby Jones' tying TD grab made him the star instead.
Otherwise, it might have been Holliday and not Jones putting his fingerprints on the Lombardi Trophy, appearing on Jimmy Kimmel's late show and then prancing across the floor with Karina Smirnoff on "Dancing With The Stars."
Champ Bailey won't play in the Broncos' opener against the Ravens on Thursday night because of a sprained left foot.
The 15th-year pro was ruled out Wednesday. He hasn't practiced since getting hurt in a preseason game at Seattle on Aug. 17.
Denver will start Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in Bailey's place alongside right cornerback Chris Harris with Tony Carter getting work at nickel.