Thursday, January 2, 2014
Broncos all about keeping their edge
By Jeff Legwold
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When it comes to the ebb and flow of an NFL season, Denver Broncos head coach John Fox likes to say people and teams deal with essentially two things.
The Broncos don't need a reminder of what happened to them as a top seed during the last postseason.
There's adversity. The Broncos have had, let's say, their share of that when it comes to the football variety.
And then there's prosperity, the kind the Broncos are enjoying right now as the AFC's top seed in the postseason.
There is the 13-3 record, a record-setting offense and a quarterback, in Peyton Manning, poised to win his fifth career MVP award, which was all good enough to get the Broncos a first-round bye this week in the postseason. It was all good enough to get them home-field advantage.
But whether it's good enough to get them more than that was a question they started to answer on the practice field Thursday. And make no mistake, Fox was already trying to shove aside any notion that this is a week of rest.
"[It's an] opportunity to get better," Fox said following Thursday's practice. "A lot of people on the outside call it a bye week. To me, it's a 'get better' week."
It is with that backdrop that the Broncos -- with more than a few bad memories in tow because of last year's double-overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens that shockingly ended a season in which they earned home-field advantage -- have already tried to hammer home the message of keeping their edge this week.
They won't know who they will face in the divisional rounds until the weekend's games are complete, just that they will face the AFC's lowest-remaining seed -- Kansas City, Indianapolis or San Diego. Fox was asked Thursday what the biggest challenge is in the balance between the benefits of a bye week and getting things dialed in for a postseason run.
"Challenge is it's a new season ... a whole new season," Fox said. "The key is not so much the bye, not the bye, all that stuff, it's playing the best football during this playoffs. It's a single-elimination tournament so you can't have a bad day."
"I think the main thing is still treat it like a game week, and still go out there and practice and execute the way you need to as if you were playing this week," wide receiver Wes Welker said. "Bringing that mentality each and every day."
After years' worth of domination by the teams that earned the week off, the pendulum has decidedly swung in recent seasons to favor those who get on a roll with a win in the wild-card round. Six of the least eight Super Bowl winners have played during the wild-card weekend, including the last three champions -- the 2010 Packers, the 2011 Giants and those 2012 Ravens that the Broncos knew so well.
That's after just two teams emerged from the wild-card weekend to win the Super Bowl in the first 15 years of the 12-team playoff format.
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Many with the team say the veteran players, who know how rare it is for the Broncos to have followed last season's No. 1 seed with another this year, have pushed everyone in the locker room to avoid any sort of comfort level with the regular season.
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said he believed this year's team was "better prepared" to deal with what's ahead. And there is the matter of the kind of eventful year the Broncos had from the offseason DUI arrests of two personnel executives -- Matt Russell and Tom Heckert -- to Von Miller's off-the-field travails that included a six-game suspension to an assortment of injuries to high-profile players like Welker and Champ Bailey to Fox's open-heart surgery.
All of those events will have calloused this team more than last season's, which rolled into the playoffs on an 11-game win streak.
"This has been a pretty mature bunch so far this season," Fox said.
"[I] think we have faced a lot, seen a lot, certainly we haven't seen it all, but hopefully we're more prepared," Manning said. " ... As painful as it was I think you can learn from it."
Overall, the Broncos on the current depth chart are fairly healthy at this point since Welker has been cleared to play in the Broncos' Jan. 12 game and went through Thursday's practice. The biggest question mark of any player on the active roster is defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has not played since suffering "seizure-like symptoms" Nov. 29 on the team's bus ride to the airport for a trip to Kansas City.
Wolfe practiced on a limited basis on Christmas Day, his first practice since the incident, then missed a day with the flu. Wolfe did not make the trip to Oakland for the regular-season finale and did not practice Thursday.
Fox would not say following practice what Wolfe's status is at the moment.
"We don't have to do that until next week," Fox said. " ... Won't comment on injuries, who's practicing until next week."
But in the end the Broncos know last year's loss would be a topic of conversation until they take the field in this year's postseason, but for most of the Broncos they said they didn't need a reminder this time around.
"It's unspoken," safety Mike Adams said. "Half of us were here last year. I'd be mad if you tell me what happened last year. I know what happened, I was there, so it's unspoken. We know what we've got to do. We're ready and I don't want to beat a dead horse."
Added Harris: "Last year at this time, I don't think we had the same amount of focus as we do now. It's more of serious tone, and we know what it takes."