DENVER – Maybe it’s true that the Denver Broncos have been a team playing under the radar this season. At the beginning, though, they sure were drawing some attention – and lighting up the laugh-o-meter. That’s what happens when a coach who insists his team is close to the Super Bowl tries to take the next step by: Jerry Rice got his tryout, but couldn’t beat out Darius Watts, who has since fallen to fifth on the Denver depth chart. Rice announced his retirement and is now appearing in ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” and will be a judge in this weekend’s Miss America Pageant. Maurice Clarett got his chance, too. A surprise third-round pick, Clarett was a bust pretty much from the day he reported to Dove Valley. Hurt, not able to fit in with the team, Shanahan let him go in the first round of cuts. Clarett is waiting to see if a grand jury will indict him on aggravated robbery charges. Did the coach feel silly for making these moves? “You can’t worry about what people say about you,” he said. “You do what’s in the best interest of your organization. Sometimes, it’s taking chances and sometimes when you take chances you make mistakes. You just can’t be afraid to say you made a mistake and you’re going in a different direction.” But for every mistake Shanahan made this season, there was a success – or two, or three. Start with punter Todd Sauerbrun. He was considered poison after his final season in Carolina. Accused of using steroids, in trouble for drunk driving, ridiculed for his running feuds with the Gramatica brothers, he looked like the kind of guy to stay away from, no matter how strong his leg. The Broncos actually went out of their way to get him. They traded their own punter, Jason Baker, and a seventh-round pick and spent more than a few weeks negotiating a contract. This season, Sauerbrun has been solid and quiet. He came in second in team voting for special teams captain. The biggest news he’s made came last week, when he made a tackle on a kickoff and forced a fumble that led to a field goal against New England. “I gave him the guidelines of what was expected here,” Shanahan said. “And he’s been perfect since the day he got here.” Nearly lost in all the laughter was Denver’s low-profile decision to sign Ron Dayne to a free-agent contract. A bust with the Giants, he made only third string in Denver. But he had a key role in winning two of the team’s 13 games this regular season – in Week 2, when he ran for 38 yards during the late, game-winning drive, and in Week 12, when his 55-yard run in overtime set up the winning score against Dallas. Then, the crown jewel: The decision to bring on – in four separate transactions – all four starting defensive linemen from last year’s Cleveland Browns, along with the man who coached them, Andre Patterson. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MORESanta Anita opens winter meet Saturday with loaded card Signing an aging standout receiver. Making a variety of moves to bring in the entire set of linemen, along with the position coach, from a team that ranked last in the league in rushing defense. Indeed, Denver’s locker room resembled a three-ring circus to many five months ago. But now, the Broncos are a win away from the Super Bowl. Mike Shanahan is looking like a genius for the chances he took and, not surprisingly, the snickering has stopped. “It’s taking chances,” Shanahan said. “What I do is, if someone’s got a checkered past, I’m not afraid to talk about their checkered past. I let them know I don’t care about their past, I just care about what they do when they come to this football team.” Some guys made it, some didn’t. Drafting a malcontent running back. Trading for a punter with alleged steroid issues.