DENVER --The questions had swirled around them for weeks.
And, with all eyes watching their showdown against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Broncos defense made a decisive first response on Thursday night.
The Broncos sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco four times, limited the Ravens to 58 total rushing yards, and stifled Baltimore's attack for much of the second half – helping the Broncos outscore the Ravens 35-10 in the final two quarters of Denver's 49-27 victory.
After the game, linebacker Shaun Phillips – who led all players with 2.5 sacks – said the performance was the result of a Broncos defense that played with a chip on its shoulder, and a defense that was determined to show it could still be effective without three key players from the team's 2012 squad – Von Miller, Champ Bailey and Elvis Dumervil.
"Everyone's like, 'Oh, what are they going to do without Elvis (Dumervil), what are they going to do without Von (Miller), what are they going to do without Champ (Bailey)?' Guys on our team can play football and again, football is not about one person," Phillips said after the game. "Football is about 11 people being on the same page at the same time.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe echoed Phillips' message, noting that the defense was highly motivated by the questioning about its effectiveness – questions that he expects to face, and hopes to continue to answer, throughout the season.
"When somebody questions your defense – we take great pride," Wolfe said. "We're going to have a chip on our shoulder all year because people are going to keep doubting and keep doubting. We have to just play as a team, stay together and have each other's back."
The Broncos were particularly dominant against the Ravens rushing attack, holding running back Ray Rice in check with just 36 yards on 12 carries and limiting backup Bernard Pierce to just 22 yards.
For the evening, the Ravens averaged just 2.8 yards per carry – something that Phillips noted was paramount to the Broncos' success.
"The key is to stop the run. (Ravens running back Ray Rice) is a fantastic guy – catching the ball, running the ball," Phillips said. "Stop him first and try to get after the quarterback. One motto that you've always got to have is to earn the right to rush the passer, and that's by stopping the run."
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard circled the performances of the interior linemen – specifically defensive tackles Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton – as being pivotal in stuffing the Ravens' ground attack.
"Up front, (Kevin) Vickerson and (Terrance Knighton), those guys did a good job up front," Woodyard said. "They told us at the beginning of the game they weren't going to let anybody run through their gap. That's what they did and our defense is built on stopping the run."
Although Flacco's passing attack generated its share of offense, the reigning Super Bowl MVP was under duress throughout the evening as the Broncos defense consistently generated pressure through a variety of different sources.
Wolfe credited the defensive game plan with keeping Flacco uncomfortable – as well as his teammates who rose to the occasion in the absence of Miller and Bailey.
"We had a great scheme and we have good players," Wolfe said. "We did a really good job replacing the guys we lost. Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers, he's getting in there doing a great job – getting a good push in the middle. It was just a great team effort."
But was the performance enough to put the questions to rest?
Hardly, according to Phillips.
"No, we still have a lot to prove. In this league, you can never be satisfied, ever," he said. "We don't want to be the best team right now. We want to continue to put one foot in front of the other and be the best team at the end of the year."