In the moments after the 26-23 overtime loss to the San Francisco 49ers, tight end Stephen Alexander could merely shake his head.
Dogged by numerous infirmities throughout the year, he’d managed to play in all 16 games, but was hindered by an injury to his ribs in December’s final weeks. But at the moment the Broncos fell for the seventh time in 2006, the pain in his torso was far from his mind, replaced by the resignation of a season complete.
“I’m sure everybody thought we were going to pick up from where we left off last year,” a sullen Alexander said in the locker room following that season-ending defeat.
But for a player like Alexander, such losses run deeper. A young player can presumably look forward to the potential for future title opportunities, even though they may never come (see Matthews, Clay; he played 19 seasons, went to four Pro Bowls and made the playoffs in eight different years, during which his teams won just three times and never made a Super Bowl). It’s different when the top of a player’s hourglass starts to drain of sand — especially since one can’t ascertain when it will run out.
Alexander carries nine years of experience with the Redskins, Chargers, Lions and Broncos. Even for a player who has as strong a résumé as he possesses — 247 receptions and 99 starts, with 14 in the last three years — Alexander left the locker room keenly aware that no one’s playing future is assured, even a perennial first-teamer like himself.
“(Not making the playoffs) is very disappointing for me, because nothing in this business is guaranteed,” he said. “I have no idea if I’ll be back here next year to have another opportunity to go out and play.
“This very well could have been my last game — who knows? So it was very disappointing for me that we let (not only the 49ers) game get away from us, but pretty much the whole second half of the season.”
And as he walked away from the locker room that night, an observer could only surmise that the one thing Alexander wanted most for his career was another chance — to help his team make right what went wrong late in the season.
FINAL ANALYSIS: Alexander shared the team’s lead among tight ends with 18 catches, but rookie Tony Scheffler had more yardage and twice as many touchdowns … did not post a catch in any of the last three games and did not start the season’s final two contests. Thirteen of his 18 receptions, 108 of his 160 yards and both of his touchdowns last season came in the five weeks that preceded his season-ending, three-game run without a reception … He garnered first downs on 55.6 percent of his receptions this past season, his highest such ratio since 2002.