ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the 2010 regular season progressed, the Broncos continued to keep their focus on the next game with hope of turning around an increasingly difficult season.
Less than 24 hours after the Broncos' season-ending loss to the Chargers, players could finally reflect on the trying campaign. On the first day of the 2011 offseason, they expressed hope for the future amid the uncertainty that comes with a 12-loss season.
"That is the funny thing about this league -- anything could happen," Bailey, who missed Sunday's game with an ankle injury, said Monday. "You talk about who the great teams are -- they lose one or two players and then they are not as good. Anything can happen at any point. I am hopeful that can happen here and I am hopeful that I can be a part of it."
By late Monday morning, players filed out of the Dove Valley practice facility for the final time this season. Carrying bags filled with the contents of their lockers shortly after a team meeting, they walked to their cars, closing the books on the 51st season of Broncos football.
After Sunday's 33-28 loss at INVESCO Field at Mile High, Interim Head Coach Eric Studesville applauded his team for playing hard throughout a season that included a coaching change and the most losses in franchise history.
"There were times when we played really, really well, and there were times when we did not play so well," said Studesville, who assumed head coaching duties on Dec. 6. "But, I think that we can learn some valuable lessons from the effort, the energy and the preparation. We know what happens when we give ourselves a chance."
For much of the season, the struggles overshadowed the flashes of brilliance.
The defense allowed the most points in the NFL, and the offense never quite found a balance, finishing 26th in the league in rushing.
Denver never won back-to-back games during the season as they lost 10 of their last 12 contests following a 2-2 start -- a jolt for a franchise that had suffered just one losing season since 2000.
Minutes after his 15th NFL campaign ended,
"You don't want to lose," said Dawkins. "If you're cool accepting losses then you don't need to be in professional sports, period."
Players talked about the inevitable changes that come with the close of an NFL season. But
Denver rallied from a 17-point halftime deficit to win in Week 16 against Houston and used a late surge on Sunday to come within a successful Hail Mary attempt of an even more improbable comeback win.
"There were a lot of guys with a lot of nagging injuries, including myself, that could have just laid it down," said Haggan, who established new single-season bests for tackles and sacks in 2010. "But they fought for 60 minutes, and I think you can judge a man's character by the way he finishes the season at a time of desperation."
As players packed up their lockers and prepared for some needed time off to recover, talk frequently turned to the chance to bounce back. With a whole offseason left to meditate on the lessons of a difficult 2010 campaign, many players looked toward next season with hope.
"We are not far," Buckhalter said. "I think this year it just snowballed for us with a lot of unfortunate things that happened."
BRONCOS PICK SECOND
By virtue of their 4-12 finish this season, Denver will pick second overall in April's NFL Draft.
The Carolina Panthers, who were 2-14 this season, have the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. Denver, Buffalo and Cincinnati -- which all finished with the same record -- will pick next in that order as decided by strength of schedule.
The franchise has never selected a player higher in the draft than No. 4 overall, which last happened in 1991. In 1983, the Broncos famously traded for John Elway, who was selected first overall by the Baltimore Colts, but the team officially selected fourth overall that season as well.
Since 2000, six players drafted No. 2 overall have made at least one Pro Bowl. The list includes Detroit's Ndamukong Suh -- last year's selection in that spot who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
The draft is scheduled for April 28-30 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
With the conclusion of the regular season, the Broncos' opponents for next season are officially set.
In addition to the regular home-and-home series with its three AFC West opponents, Denver will host New England, Chicago, Detroit, Cincinnati and the New York Jets. The slate includes trips to Buffalo, Miami, Green Bay, Minnesota and Tennessee.
The full schedule with game dates is typically released in April.
TEAM SIGNS SIX FOR 2011
On Monday, the Broncos signed
The players will be added to the team's active roster at the conclusion of the 2010 NFL season in February.