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Horse Tracks: Broncos gain confidence via trouncing of Raiders

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In so many ways, the 47-14 victory over the Oakland Raiders was just the win the Denver Broncos needed - a prolific offense with both air and ground highlights, a fighting defense and even a special teams with actually some special plays.

Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Good morning, Broncos Country!

Let me be the first to say, Halle-freakin-lujah!

Or maybe the 54th person, as clearly every player in a Broncos uniform is saying it too.

And not just because the Broncos hammered the Oakland Raiders 47-14 (though that is always a supreme bonus), or because the 12-4 regular season record means a No. 2 seed in the playoffs and therefore a bye next week (also very excellent).

No. It's all about the confidence this game gave the Broncos (and perhaps some doubting fans).

Yeah, I know it was the Raiders, a team that stopped smack-talking 15 minutes into Week 1 when it became clear how this season would go.

But that should not take away from everything that this game was - a dominant victory over a conference rival, a marvelous follow-up to last week's debacle, a gut-check for a lot of guys playing tough through injuries, and most importantly, a reminder to the players that they can overcome.

"Oh, yeah. You always need a win - just a win, period," Chris Harris, Jr. said about getting the "W" the week after a huge letdown against Cincinnati. "It's good to stay undefeated at home and to have our first playoff game at home. We'll try to keep that streak going."

Terrance Knighton feels the same way about playing strong in the season finale.

"You always want to finish the right way, especially since we have a bye, because we won't be playing football for a while," said Knighton, who only logged one tackle on the night but also had the greatest chase of Derek Carr to the sidelines ever seen.

Momentum should be strong going into the bye after the Broncos' stellar defensive performance that saw the Raiders' offense get only one first down in the first half and just 199 yards and one offensive touchdown the entire game.

"That is awesome, especially to do what you expect," said defensive end Malik Jackson of the game's outcome. "We knew that they were a team that wanted to come in and kind of mess things up for us. We wanted to go out there and give them no hope and get off as soon as the whistle blew and kind of touchdown, stop them. Touchdown, stop them. Touchdown, stop them. So I think we had a good day."

Yes. Yes, you did.

The Raiders walked out of Mile High with just 10 first downs on the day, 67 yards rushing and 132 yards passing. The Broncos' D sacked Derek Carr three times in the game and forced the Raiders to three-and-outs in their first four drives and six punts in the first half.

The Broncos' defense - having accumulated zero penalties the entire game - only allowed one good drive by the Raiders in the third quarter before nailing their silver and black coffin shut in the fourth with a sack and forced fumble by Lerentee McCray that was scooped up by Tony Carter and run in for a touchdown. In the waning seconds of the game, Carr ended his rookie campaign with an interception by recently acquired defensive back Josh Bush.

The only downer for the Denver D was the cheap shot on David Bruton late in the game that sent him to the ER before being diagnosed as a concussion.

Overall the game was just how the defense scripted it - and how fans have been wanting it scripted since August.

"Yeah, we talked about being dominant, and like I said, just building that momentum," Knighton added. "Hopefully this win and this momentum will fuel us into the new season."

That new season will start Jan. 11 at 2:40 p.m. Mile High time against an opponent yet-to-be-determined.

But it won't matter. Whether it is Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts or Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers or even Andy Dalton and those revenge-requiring Cincinnati Bengals, the Broncos will be facing a Super Bowl contender and need to be on their game if they want to advance to the AFC Championship.

And the defense will most certainly need to play it's best in that game where the likely opponent will be the ever-so-lucky-at-home New England Patriots.

But one game at a time and all that. Right now, it's about healing and then preparing to beat the you-know-what out of whomever (at least, that's my dream for a solid game plan).

"We expected to be where we are right now at the beginning of the season," Pot Roast said. "Now it's time to put the words aside and go out and show it with our actions. We've been talking about it all offseason. So, right now, it's about business. It's a new season - our Pro Bowl players, our big players on the team - it's time for them in the new season to step up and take this thing by the horns."

Harris Jr. is ready to do just that.

"You play 16 games, and we're just now getting our gel together," the cornerback said, adding that the time to be playing your best football is heading into the playoffs. "We feel like on defense, we're starting to click. We just need to get our guys, get B-Marsh healthy and get T.J. [Ward] out there. We'll be ready."

The confidence level on the other side of the ball is much-improved after a far better performance yesterday than Monday night, but it was clear in the locker room that these Broncos know there's work to be done.

"We've done enough to help us win 12 games," said Peyton Manning, who went 21/37 for 273 yards.

Though Manning had no interceptions, he also had no touchdowns, preventing a second straight year of 40+ touchdown passes, something only Drew Brees has accomplished (2011 and 2012).

But that was hardly a concern for Manning. What was more likely an issue for him was his three incomplete passes in a row on the three-yard line during a drive midway through the fourth quarter that ended in a field goal.

You're always looking to improve every single week. You study some things you're doing well and some things that aren't working that you might eliminate. It's a good time to kind of study yourself and see where you are.   -Peyton Manning

"You're always looking to improve every single week," Manning said, adding that the bye week will allow the offense to study film from the entire season. "You study your tendencies, study some things that you're doing well that you can probably hang your hat on, study some things that aren't working that you might eliminate. So it's a good time to kind of study yourself and see where you are."

Likely the Broncos will see they are in the midst of a successful effort to achieve a balanced offensive scheme. Broncos' running backs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman combined to contribute 137 of the Broncos 142 rushing yards, making them a solid duo on the ground.

"C.J.'s been great. He's been really solid and good in the passing game, good in the pass pro, and made a lot of big runs," Manning said. "It was good to get Ronnie back today. The two of those guys can be a pretty good little one-two punch."

Virgil Green, the young tight end who finally got his first career touchdown in a late fourth-quarter drive by backup QB Brock Osweiler, added that the running game is really giving a boost to the entire offense.

"I think we have gained some confidence in [the run game] and that we know it's going to work," said Green. "We know we don't have to lean heavily on the passing game, and I think in turn that makes us a complete offense. The play-action is there, the run game is there, the drop back is there. So, we just have to keep clicking in the run game and everything else will come with it."

Anderson, who beat himself up publicly for his performance last Monday, said he pulled out his notebook from his first year with the Broncos and got "back to the fundamentals" in Sunday's game.

It seems to have worked as Anderson contributed three touchdowns to the Broncos' 47 points, putting him atop the list of most touchdowns (10) by an undrafted running back in Broncos' history. Anderson also ties former Broncos Clinton Portis and Mike Anderson for most games with at least three TDs. Only Terrell Davis has more with four games.

"It feels good, I just think a lot of people are going to say this, or say that, and as an offense we were clicking on all cylinders and when we're like that these are the games we can have," Anderson said. "We were very detailed and we were all going back to our fundamentals because we all had the game from last week. So, we just tried to erase that and we went out there and got that done tonight."

Another player who got it done was none other than Demaryius Thomas, who caught eight passes for 117 yards, giving him 10 games this season with 100+ yards receiving, third all-time in the NFL. Finishing the year with 1,619 yards receiving, Thomas broke Rod Smith's franchise record for most receiving yards in a regular season. Smith had 1,602 yards in 2000.

"It means a lot because it's Rod Smith. It's special. I can say some of the hard work I've worked toward has paid off," Thomas said, but added that records are meant to be broken. "All the respect to Rod because when I first got to Denver, he was there for me. What would make it better, we go out and win the Super Bowl because you can't take that from me. You can always take a record. So I'm excited, but we've still got some work to do."

What would make it better - we go out and win the Super Bowl because you can't take that from me. You can always take a record.  -Demaryius Thomas on breaking Rod Smith's record for yards in a season

Emmanuel Sanders, who had nine catches for 73 yards against Oakland despite a bad back, agrees there is work to do but the bye week will help.

"Obviously it's a Super Bowl-or-bust season, and it's been that way ever since I got here," Sanders said. "You know, we've got four weeks to prove it. The playoffs are going to be important, and we're looking forward to it."

Though the offense has some rhythm issues to work through, Knighton truly believes that what it takes to win the Super Bowl is a team with a running game and a defense that can win it.

This year, he believes, the Broncos have that "rugged" team, similar to the 2007-08 New York Giants team that erased the magical 16-0 season of the New England Patriots with a win in the Super Bowl.

"A team that can run the ball and a team that plays excellent defense - that's the formula to win," said Knighton. "That's been the formula for I don't know how many years. I remember growing up a Patriots fan and them going 16-0 and breaking every record and then a Giants team coming in and being rugged. So it's about teams that play great defense, the teams that run the ball and control the line of scrimmage."

I think I'll say it again ... Halle-freakin-lujah.

What do you think, Broncos Country...can I get an Amen? Or should we start saying our prayers?

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