In all the ways last night's preseason game mattered - and don't kid yourselves, it did matter - the Broncos won.
They won on third-down conversions.
They won on turnovers.
They won on sacks.
And most importantly, they won on attitude.
Thursday's 21-16 win was as irrelevant as last year's 40-18 preseason loss to Seattle and 43-8 loss in the Super Bowl. (OK, maybe that 35-point one was slightly more relevant - as well as unbelievably unfortunate - but only for the history books.)
Thankfully, the Broncos showed up to Mile High Stadium ready to prove a point - that the Super Bowl was an anomaly and the only February game they're concentrating on is the one they're going to play.
The offense showed a little rhythm and a lot of stamina in its penalty-ridden 14-play drive that lasted nine minutes and culminated in a one-yard touchdown run by backup running back Ronnie Hillman.
The defense played with intensity but not insanity (looking at you, Tharold Simon), regularly rattling Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and pulling him to the dirt not once but twice in Seattle's opening drive.
It was the most important "meaningless" game ever. And everyone knew it.
Do we get rings for this? haha j/k this game was cathartic— Mike G (@Bronco_Mike251) August 8, 2014
Terrance Knighton knew it.
"That's the way we're going to play all year. It didn't matter if it was against Seattle; it could have been any team out there," Pot Roast said. "That's what you're going to see from our defense... We're just trying to have a different mentality this year."
Preseason or not I'll take it. #snodaaaaaat— Terrance Knighton (@MrKnighton2u) August 8, 2014
Aqib Talib knew it.
"It felt like a (regular season) game out there," said the new cornerback. "It definitely felt like a game because it was a game. You don't come out there playing 75 percent. Every time we're on the field against another team, we will go all out."
Even the one guy who had a relatively good Super Bowl game despite the beat down - Demaryius Thomas - knew it.
"It is a very good start for us," said the wide receiver who played his only two drives of the game like it was the playoffs (or like he wants the big contract he deserves), scoring one touchdown and connecting with his QB five times for 52 yards.
"We still have work to do, but it was good because last time we played them we didn't do so well. Being able to go out, put up some points and move the football. It felt great."
And even though Peyton Manning didn't say it, I know he knew it.
Always the cool and collected quarterback, Manning said after the game that there was no more importance to scoring first in this game than in any other.
"It's your job. It's your job to go out and compete," Manning added, noting that preseason games are just for establishing the team while guys compete to get or keep their starting positions. "I don't think it meant any more than that."
Argh. Sometimes he's just too perfect. C'mon, Manning. Say it. Say it was awesome to see the defense stuff the inferior Seahawks offense. Say it felt really good to score on their D the way we were supposed to six months ago.
Oh, right. Keep it cool. Wait until the end of the season when it really does matter.
Either way, the collective sigh of relief by Broncos fans everywhere after Thursday's mini-triumph was palpable.
Winning that game felt good. Really good. Better-than-it-should-have good.
Derek Wolfe knew that.
"You hate to lose anyway," the defensive end said. "Whether preseason or not, it's always good to get a win."
Damn straight it is.
But everyone - especially the Sheriff - knows that now it's time to get back to work because in four short weeks this team still needs to be a lot better. And in six it better be firing on all cylinders when it goes to CenturyLink Field to face a stronger Seattle offensive line and a fierce defense.
"It's good we overcame some things," Manning said, referring to the touchdown drive despite the penalty-ridden effort. "I always talk about getting situations to occur in the preseason. That's something you want to be able to overcome in the regular season. You get a penalty and say ‘hey, it's bad, but let's try to find a way to overcome it.'"
Linebacker Nate Irving called the night "something to build on."
"It was a pretty good start for us. We have to go back and correct what we did wrong," Irving said, adding that it was good to play "live" football. "We could actually finish people to the ground."
Yes, more of that, please.
Manning had a lot of praise for his running backs, his star receiver, his left tackle and even his backup quarterback who followed an interception with a touchdown drive that gave Broncos fans a glimmer of hope for the future.
"We'll see a lot from the film," he added, noting Ryan Clady's return to the lineup following a season-ending injury last year. "Definitely some good things out there."
Among those good things was a pair of undrafted rookies Kapri Bibbs and Juwan Thompson, who clearly want to prove their worth on this team, plus backup defenders Quanterus Smith and Marvin Austin who are just making the depth on this new defense almost ridiculous.
Bringing down an INT in the endzone with less than three minutes in the game, linebacker Steven Johnson agreed it is a tougher Broncos team out there this year.
"We're all trying to just go out there and get better. When we go out to practice every day, it's a competition and we're all working hard together," said the third-year player. "We looked good today, we took a step forward, we looked fast, we looked strong - but we have to keep working."
True. But it's just like my 7-year-old noted after the game - "I'm actually glad we played Seattle first because it sets the tone for the whole season."
Damn, he's smart.