"Enjoy every moment of it," said defensive end
Of those 22 players, just two—center
"I think the fact that they played a lot in the course of the season should help them," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "Guys like Shane and those young kids, they think they know what this next step is all about, playoff football, but it's a rude awakening for some of them. But it doesn't take long for them to fit in, and he's played some big games for us; he played some big games in college, so the good news is we've counted on everybody and we'll count on him again this weekend."
What seems to separate playoff football, in its substance, from regular-season football is the level of focus. A team looks for any edge it can find in the playoffs to help create separation, and where there are weak links, they are bound to be found.
Like preseason to the regular season, so is it with the transition from the latter to the postseason, said Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, who has coached in 30 playoff games.
"It's a different level each time you go up," he said. "They played in the preseason and we told them, 'Hey the season is going to be another level up.' Which it is and I think they found that out. It's a different level when you play in the playoffs. It's a different level when you play in the Super Bowl. You just have to step up with it."
Ray said that veterans around him have simply told him, "Lock in."
But the message isn't just about focus, it's about the stakes and how individual accountability ties into a playoff run.
"You don't want to be that guy that doesn't have your assignment down and cost the team," Ray said.
"I think that experience that a lot of the older guys have—and then the rookies and younger guys really taking it on, that experience—and saying, ‘Yeah, you wear the rookie tag, but when you’re out there, you’re a player just like everybody else,'" outside linebacker