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.
Cheer up Raiders fans, the Broncos aren't playing next week either.— Jess Place (@Jezru) December 29, 2014
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.
It's a Pot Roast vs Derek Carr foot race! https://t.co/TEiTlS1PDj— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) December 28, 2014
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.
Bruton being taken off on a stretcher after this hit, and I hate the #Raiders again. https://t.co/XFdKVCPY2f— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) December 29, 2014
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."
"Everybody plays us like it's the Super Bowl, and it's been like that for 16 weeks." - @ChrisHarrisJr #OAKvsDEN— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 29, 2014
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.
"We've done something right to win 12 games. You don't just luck into that. Can we improve? Sure." - #PeytonManning pic.twitter.com/iDQCoXyipV— Laurie Volkmann (@docllv) December 29, 2014
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," 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."
#Broncos' @CjAndersonRB9 ends season with 10 TDs and 1,173 yards. WOW. Just WOW. pic.twitter.com/sf9Sr0CmA3— Laurie Volkmann (@docllv) December 29, 2014
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."
.@DemaryiusT and @ESanders_10 join @TheREALrodSmith and @87ed (2000) as only 100-catch duos in #Broncos history. pic.twitter.com/7oXsKLz4Vh— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) December 29, 2014
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."
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?
Broncos playoff tickets on sale Monday for AFC Divisional game
Single-game tickets for the Broncos' AFC Divisional Playoff Game will go on sale Monday at 3 p.m.
Hochman: Denver's defense has its swagger back, with good reason - The Denver Post
Do the Denver Broncos have the best defense in the AFC?
Raiders vs. Broncos: Highs, lows of Denver's victory in Week 17
The notable and not-so-notable moments of the Broncos Week 17 win over the Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Green scores 1st career TD: 'Out there having fun'
TE Virgil Green scored his first career touchdown Sunday night, a one yard reception from Brock Osweiler in the fourth quarter.
C.J. Anderson, Broncos run over Raiders to secure first-round bye - The Denver Post
Peyton Manning might have the oldest right shoulder joint in the NFL, but it still works, and it just earned a week off.
Peyton's Take: Broncos ready for first-round bye
Peyton Manning and the Broncos were able to clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with their win over the Raiders. The victory capped off a 12-win season and provides a nice respite before their first playoff game.
Usual teams in playoffs: 49 things you need to know - NFL.com
As the 2014 regular season came to a close Sunday, the playoff field became a familiar group. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady lead two teams among a field that also includes a couple late arrivals.
Broncos to face seven playoff teams in 2015 - ESPN
The 2015 NFL schedule is set with the matchups and the Denver Broncos will have home games against four 2014 playoff teams.
New York Jets fire Rex Ryan, John Idzik - NFL.com
The Jets fired coach Rex Ryan and general manager John Idzik on Monday. Ryan was 46-50 over six seasons, including AFC title games his first two years. Idzik lasted just two years with the team.
Chiefs knock Chargers out of playoffs with pass rush - NFL.com
There were no more miracle comebacks left for the San Diego Chargers. Their banged-up offense ran out of gas in Arrowhead Stadium in a 19-7 loss to the Chiefs.
Jim Harbaugh, 49ers agree to part ways - The Denver Post
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh will not return for the final season of his $25 million, five-year contract he signed in January 2011.
8 NFL Teams That Are the Favorites to Win the 2015 Super Bowl - Part 2
The NFL season is still weeks away, but that hasn't stopped Las Vegas from laying the line on who's most likely to come out on top in next year's Super Bowl.
Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks clinch No. 1 seed - NFL Nation Blog - ESPN
The Seahawks (12-4) win the NFC West title and clinch home-field advantage in the playoffs for the second consecutive season. Seattle won its final six games and nine of the past 10.
Did Ndamukong Suh step on Aaron Rodgers twice on purpose? | Shutdown Corner - Yahoo Sports
From Yahoo Sports: The Detroit Lions are having a hard time shedding their label of being a dirty team.
Le'Veon Bell hyperextends right knee in Steelers' win - NFL.com
The Steelers lost their best weapon on Sunday night. Running back Le'Veon Bell left the game against the Bengals with a hyperextended right knee injury and did not return. The Steelers won 27-17.
Best of Harbaugh: Top 10 moments as 49ers coach - NFL.com
The 49ers and Jim Harbaugh officially parted ways on Sunday after four seasons, three NFC title game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl. Here are 10 great moments from his Niners run.