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Horse Tracks: Broncos fans must forgive while players must forget

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If you think it's been hard for fans to stop talking about the Denver Broncos pitiful game against the New England Patriots, think what it's like for the players. But even though they'd like to forget that game completely, they know there's a healthy balance of remembering what they did to lose and forgetting enough so they can go on to win.

Doug Pensinger

Good morning, Broncos Country!

It's gut-check time.

Wash your jerseys, change your Game Day routine and adjust your attitude because that New England Patriots' loss is but a distant memory, and our Denver Broncos need us to be prepared, focused and 100 percent motivated to cheer them on to a big win Sunday.

It's a loss on our record. It's old news. We're moving on to Oakland.   -John Fox, head coach

Don't spend one more second even thinking about that beatdown last weekend; instead re-energize your Orange&Blue fanaticism because it's go-time.

Forgive and forget. Or something like that.

"It's a loss on our record. It's old news, and we're on to Oakland," head coach John Fox said Wednesday, adding this Broncos team should respond well this weekend after the loss in New England. "We'll find out. [New England's] behind us, and we've made those corrections and moved on. We're all about Oakland."

If the Broncos can move on, so can we, right?

Just in case you're having a harder time than Fox, here's a little motivation from Vince Lombardi.

"Just hit. Just run. Just block. Just tackle."

Solid advice. No wonder his name is on the trophy.

Still leading a shifting AFC West

Sitting at 6-2 in a rather crowded six-win group in the AFC, the Broncos must come out of this grueling three-game road schedule 2-1 (including the loss to New England) and show of just what kind of champions this team is made.

Emmanuel Sanders already knows.

"Elway has done an exceptional job of putting together a world championship roster and we've got to have a world championship mindset around here, and I think that we have that," said the receiver who logged his fifth game last week with more than 100 yards receiving. "We lost, but sometimes you've got to swallow that humble pie, and I think it makes the core of the group a lot stronger. We kind of hit the restart button and are just trying to get this thing right again."

While a loss can wake a team up to its mistakes, Peyton Manning stopped short of calling last week's abysmal effort a silver lining - despite the media's begging.

"I think we are focused on trying to respond and play better. Can it be a good thing? Yeah, if you respond," Manning said. "But I think you'd like not to get slapped in the face to get refocused. I think you would like to be focused every single week."

Well, we certainly would like that too and are expecting nothing but Jedi mind tricks from our refocused Broncos when they enter George Lucas territory on Sunday.

Jacob Tamme, who dropped more passes than he caught against the Patriots, likened last week's game to getting "kicked right in the stomach."

We could argue on the true placement of that kick, but Tamme is right about one thing - that game did not feel good.

But here's the thing that every athlete, marriage counselor and 10-year-old girl knows that Broncos players - and, um,  fans - need to do: Let. It. Go. (cue the "Frozen" video).

Athletes need to forget about poor performances. If not, they are playing not to lose instead of playing to win.    -Diana Lattimore, sports counselor

While we vent and swear and reel over Belicheck going for a two-point conversion or fourth down late in the game when Patriots are up 22 points (ok, so I'm still working on that song), the players have had to do something that takes genuine mental strength - remember what went wrong to prevent the same poor performance, but don't dwell on the mistakes and lose focus on the next play - or next game.

"It is crucial for an athlete to take away areas of improvement after a poor performance, but then athletes need to forget about it," says sports psychology counselor Diana Lattimore (also my awesome sister). "If not, the players tend to over-think the mistakes, which changes their focus. Instead of playing to win, they are playing not to lose. And that doesn't usually work out well."

No. No, it does not.

But these Broncos do have mental toughness, and so should we.

Offensive coordinator Adam Gase recalled the particularly poorly executed 4th and 6 when Manning got sacked for a big loss.

"That was a bad sack to have at that time," acknowledged Gase, adding that they are working on correcting weaknesses occurring in a three-man rush. "The good thing is they're going to allow us to play eight more games, so we're allowed to get better. That's what we'll do. We'll keep coming out here and figure out a way to win the next one."

And that will be no easy task. Winning the next one means beating an 0-8 team that is steadily improving, putting up a lot of points, looking a lot better than its record and just chomping at the bit to breathe the tiniest bit of life into its dying franchise by bringing down a conference rival.

"I've been in those shoes before where you've been the big-time underdog," said Terrance Knighton, adding that those are the games in which underdogs often go overlooked. "We're a veteran team, so we have a lot of leadership and we're not going to allow guys to overlook this team. We're going to treat it like any other opponent. We treat every opponent the same, so we'll treat them as if they're 8-0."

Ignoring records is the key to making it through the NFL season, say the Broncos.

"I really don't look at their record," Manning said straight up. "You study the defense and I see a defensive line that's really active and creates a lot of plays. I look at what I see on film."

And what the coaching staff and players are seeing on film is enough to know the Raiders team cannot be taken lightly.

They fight. They're an 0-8 team but at least four or five of the games have came down to seven points or less. They're a good team.    -Aqib Talib, cornerback

Though winless, the Raiders only lost to the Patriots 16-9, by a field goal to the Chargers and less than a touchdown to the Seahawks.

"They fight. They're an 0-8 team but at least four or five of the games came down to seven points or less. So they're a good team," said cornerback Aqib Talib. "They're playing good football. They [haven't been] able to come out with a win yet but have a good hard-fought football team."

Knighton pays attention to the offensive line, and what he sees is a tough group to push out of the way.

"I see a big offensive line with a coach whose background comes from offensive line, so they probably have a tough group up front," Knighton said. "They're going to try to establish the run. They have a young quarterback, so in order to try to make him comfortable in the pocket, they're going to have to try to run the ball."

That scenario bodes well for the Broncos as they continue to dominate run defenses in the league.

Where they could get in trouble - as last week exposed - is on third and long situations. But defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio insists his group can take those.

"Anytime we get people in third and long, we expect to win," Del Rio said. "We've got really good rush up front. We've got really good coverage people in the back. We know we're sound in what we're doing, so we just need to execute a little better."

Del Rio admitted that it can be deflating for defenses to give up a third-and-long, but just like the rest of the game, short memory of getting beat on a play is critical to coming back just as hard on the next play.

"We're most interested in being poised, being smart, being tough, playing good football and part of that is taking advantage of those situations and winning those situations," he said. "The good part is we're getting them in those third-and-longs. That is not easy to do. We want to capitalize on it and take advantage of that."

Part of capitalizing requires better communication among the defensive players, something that was a problem last weekend.

"It's central to what we do to be able to communicate," Del Rio said, calling last weekend a "valuable lesson. We'll grow from it and work on it in practice and simulate it the best you can. There is nothing like that game experience. We'll be better next time we face that type of attack."

Oakland's weapons

Despite the worst record in the NFL and the only team to not win at least one game this season, the Raiders are not without talent.

Raiders' rookie quarterback Derek Carr is not an easy target.

"[He is a] good, young player. Quick release, throws a good ball and he's done a good job of not taking sacks," Del Rio said. "He's only been sacked I think seven or eight times this year and [he's] a good young player."

DeMarcus Ware believes Carr could be a tough QB to chase down on Sunday.

"He's one of those quarterbacks where he's more athletic than he looks. He's not going to run the ball a lot but he's one of those quarterbacks that can really string plays out and get the ball deep down the field," said the defensive end. "He gets off the ball really quick. So he knows even if you blitz him, even if you rush him, it really doesn't matter. He's going to dump it down to his running back or short passes that make sure he keeps the game close."

Getting after Carr is going to mean getting through the offensive line.

"They're a really big offensive line, really physical. They're a good offensive line," said Ware, noting that the Broncos D will have to continue stopping the run while also "really get pressure on the quarterback."

As of late, Carr has been finding good chemistry with second-year tight end Mychal Rivera, while running backs Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew have proved capable, even if not too productive so far.

They've got good skill people, good design. So we're gearing up to play our best.    -Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator

On the defensive side for the Raiders, there's Charles Woodson and rookie Khalil Mack to contend with - both players who can wreak havoc on an offense.

"I think they've got good skill people, good design - good people playing hard," Del Rio said, who praised Jones-Drew, a running back he had while coaching the Jaguars. "So we're gearing up to play our best. For us it's about being as good as we can be every time out and so we're anxious to get back on the grass and get after it on Sunday."

Demaryius Thomas believes this Raiders team is better than in years past but the preparation is no different - take every team seriously.

"It's just like preparing for another game. You can't take advantage of anybody, so you've got to go out, prepare - especially coming off the loss that we had - and try to come out and play some good football."

Good football would be excellent, right Mr. Lombardi?

"Just hit. Just run. Just block. Just tackle. If you do that, there is no question what the answer is going to be in this ball game."

A big, fat W.

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