SAN DIEGO, FEB. 1 -- The Denver Broncos woke up this morning and began sorting through the debris that was their season.

Deep down in the rubble, they searched for answers to some very complex questions. Losing two straight times in the Super Bowl is hardly the worst thing in the world, but how could they come this far and get blown out twice? What happens with this team now -- do the Broncos need minor retooling in the problem areas, or a major overhaul? Are their problems simply symptomatic of what ails the entire AFC? Are they fast becoming the Minnesota Vikings of the '80s, a fine team that can't win a Super Bowl?

A 42-10 loss to the Redskins Sunday, piled atop of a 39-20 loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI, left Coach Dan Reeves and many of his players with bags under their eyes and lumps in their throats.

Giving up 35 points in a quarter will do that to a coach and his players, no matter how many games or how much playoff money they've won.

Among the first questions Reeves was asked was what changes he and the club may make regarding personnel or philosophy.

"We didn't all of a sudden become a bad football team because we lost the Super Bowl," he said. "We don't need to make wholesale changes. There's a difference between success and excellence . . . and we're just not ready for excellence right now . . . We'll have to evaluate everything. When you get beat that badly and play that poorly, you can't blame it strictly on the players."

Some of the players, such as nose tackle Greg Kragen, didn't bother with pretense.

"If people compare us with the Minnesota Vikings {0-4 in Super Bowl competition}, I guess we deserve it," he said. "They're the only team in Super Bowl history to have a worse record than we have.

"I was already thinking about it, to tell you the truth. If I never make it back and win one, I'll have a bad taste in my mouth . . . People say it's nice to at least get this far. Well, that was fine last year. But what the Redskins did to us yesterday, that was just demoralizing.

"This is much, much worse than the Giants loss. Sure, you can say we've won X number of games the past two seasons and that no AFC team this decade has gone to two straight Super Bowls. But there are some legitimate concerns people have about us. Losing twice makes it all seem worthless. Last year's loss was a motivator. Maybe I'll think differently in a few weeks, but right now this loss seems like a demoralizer."

Those concerns pertain to more than just the Denver Broncos. The entire AFC has had problems this decade. The Redskins, Giants, Bears and 49ers have given the NFC six of eight Super Bowl victories this decade, and the NFC has won four straight. The only AFC Super Bowl victories were achieved by the Raiders, a team that plays with a decidedly NFC flavor.

"Coincidence is when it happens every now and then," Reeves said. "But us losing twice, Miami and New England -- that's four in a row."

Most AFC teams use shifting defensive fronts. Reeves said this morning that Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs, with the aid of the extra week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, had time to figure out all the Broncos' trickery.

"If you're not going to be able to win with deception, you're forced to go to man-to-man, and they won that battle," Reeves said.

The AFC teams need deception because they aren't as big. Denver's lineman-type, linebacker/end Karl Mecklenburg started the season at 230 pounds, which means he was probably around 220 by the end of the Super Bowl. Kragen, the nose tackle, weighs 250.

Dexter Manley is the Redskins' flyweight along the defensive line at 260. The Broncos' defensive players interviewed today said they knew the Redskins were going to run the famous Counter-Gap play with Timmy Smith but couldn't stop it. The Redskins kept blowing the Broncos off the line.

Kragen said it's rare for a quarterback to change passing plays to running plays at the line of scrimmage, which is what Williams did to exploit Denver's shifting. Just as when the Green Bay Packers used to tell the defense they were about to run the power sweep, and make it work anyway, the Redskins could have flashed "Counter-Gap" on the scoreboard and still run it.

Sure, Reeves said, the Redskins did a few new things such as line up with three defensive linemen and put safeties Alvin Walton or Clarence Vaughn out wide so they could rush quarterback John Elway.

There were questions again about whether the Broncos are a "one-man team," namely Elway. Even Reeves said: "John doesn't block for the quarterback, he doesn't catch passes {even though he did catch one, on a trick play}, or line up for one down on defense."

{When the team got back to 15-degree Denver, about 10,000 turned out to honor the team at a ticker-tape parade.

"We're disappointed, but you know we'll be back," team owner Pat Bowlen told the fans. "We'll get it done for you. We feel like Custer's Last Stand."}