ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — During the course of the Broncos' 2023 season, Head Coach Sean Payton has often referred to the grit, toughness and resilience the NFL requires from its players and teams.
As Denver enters the final three-game stretch of its season, Payton believes it will be critical for his team to show those same traits that helped the Broncos climb out of a 1-5 hole to start the year.
"I think it's going to be very important," Payton said Monday.
And yet, while Payton and the Broncos know they must win their final three games over the Patriots, Chargers and Raiders, they also know their focus must be solely on a Week 16 matchup with the Patriots.
"We all watched the games [Sunday], and you get caught up in the numbers and the percentages," Payton said. "You can only focus on the things you can control, and it's obviously getting ready to play New England — and that's it. Focus on getting this next win, because that's really all that matters. It's going to take three wins, but it starts with this week."
The Patriots have won just three games, but they beat the Bills and lost one-score games to playoff contenders in the Eagles, Dolphins and Colts. On Sunday, New England held a 10-7 first-half lead before Kansas City pulled away in a 27-17 win. For Denver to beat New England, Payton said it's critical for the Broncos to not allow Detroit to beat them twice.
"We have good leadership in that locker room," Payton said. "We have experienced players. I said to them after the game, 'Look, this is a tough loss. They never taste well, but this one will go down.' The key for us is to get rested and get ready for these final three weeks and really starting with this week vs. New England. You can't lose that game twice. You lost it once, and we all did collectively. We all could have been better, and we weren't. Let's move forward. The leadership and the experience in this locker room we've leaned on, and we will lean on again. It'll serve us well."
Payton also noted the ability to shake off the loss applies to the Broncos' coaching staff, as well.
"If we're asking that of our players, we have to be able to ask that of ourselves," Payton said. "These guys will come here Wednesday morning. We'll be in game-plan mode for the next few days. We have to have some energy, we have to have some juice, we have to have a plan. We still want to make sure we get the corrections made. We can't gloss over some things that we don't want to repeat themselves, but I think our body language and our energy will be important."
IMPROVING IN THE RUN GAME
As the Broncos' offense looks to improve against New England, Payton pointed to the run game as an area in which Denver must get back on track.
"We didn't run it as well as I thought we would, and quite honestly, I think that's an area [for improvement]," Payton said. "Cleveland was the last game where I felt like we ran it really well. I think in this next three-game stretch, we're going to have to run it better than we have."
Denver rushed for 83 yards against Detroit, which was the team's third-lowest output of the season. And while the Broncos rushed for more than 100 yards against the Texans and Chargers, Denver averaged fewer than 4 yards per carry in each of those games. Against Cleveland, Denver posted a 4.3 yards per carry average and totaled 169 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
"We've just struggled the last few games to move the ball on the ground, and obviously that's the strength of our offense," tight end Adam Trautman said. "… We'll be focusing on that and trying to [make] it better, because it does need to get better."
Tight end Greg Dulcich did not practice Thursday and was ruled out for Week 15 after an injury to his foot, but Payton said he still expects Dulcich to return to game action this season.
"This was unrelated to his hamstring," Payton said. "He just had some swelling and soreness in his foot. We took him off weight-bearing for a day or two. I'm anxious to see how he does this week. I expect him to play at some point in these final three weeks, but I don't want you to think it was something that was going to preclude him from doing that. We'll see where he's at this week."
Dulcich returned to practice on Dec. 13, which means the Broncos must activate him by Jan. 3 for him to play again this season. He is eligible to be activated at any point.