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The What-If Game

Posted Jan 17, 2013

Players replayed the Ravens loss in their head, but know they can't get into would've, could've, should'ves.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Sometimes, the what-ifs are the hardest part.

"There are about 15 plays out there, big plays, that were throughout the game," safety Mike Adams said of the Divisional Round. "If we could take one play back from what we had done, some of the self-inflicted wounds that we had done, it’s a totally different game.”

But the Broncos can't have mistakes from last Saturday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens back. The 38-35 loss in the second overtime period has to stick with the team for a full offseason, while the Ravens move on to take on the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.

"That’s playoff football -- it’s do-or-die," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "There’s no makeups, there’s no, ‘My bad.’ You have a bad day, you go home, you deal with it. You’re staring an offseason right in the face with nothing to do except to think about it."

As they cleaned out their lockers, players couldn't help but think about the loss and what they could've done differently.

Linebacker Von Miller said he couldn't sleep the night after the loss as he replayed near-sacks in his mind.

Cornerback Champ Bailey said he was his harshest critic, and didn't like the performance he put on tape.

Wide receiver Eric Decker said the play that stuck with him was the tipped pass aimed in his direction that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

Meanwhile, players like defensive tackle Justin Bannan and wide receiver Brandon Stokley had no interest in rewatching the game.

"It’s already playing through my mind enough," Stokley said.

Regardless, the Broncos know they didn't play as well as they could've. Tight end Joel Dreessen said he felt like the team regressed to the type of football it played in a 2-3 start -- not the football it played that brought 11 consecutive wins.

But Decker said that no matter how hard it is to accept the loss and move forward, that's what the team has to do.

“The ‘should have, could have, would haves,’ they come out," Decker said. "You think, ‘If I had just made one more play,' blah, blah, blah, so on and so forth, but you can’t do that now. You’ve got to learn from it."

That's what the Broncos plan to do this offseason.

In his season-ending press conference, Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said the team can't become "defensive" about the loss. Instead, the players and coaches have to use it so that it doesn't get repeated.

"If we really dissect it and really look at what happened, not only what happened in the game but also learn from what we did in practice with the bye, we’ll look at everything and learn from it," Elway said. "Hopefully, we’re back in this situation again and we will have looked at it the right way and learned from the situation.”

Elway went on to say he expects the team to use the loss as a "battle cry" for next season.

That mentality was echoed in the locker room.

"As men, as professionals, what you do -- it hurts like hell right now, can’t even describe it," Brooking said. "But there’s a lot of young players in this locker room that need to use this as motivation, as a spark to have that fire burning inside of them this offseason and come back stronger."