JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- **The only definition of success for the 2013 Broncos involved being here for Super Bowl XLVIII, and that was the realistic expectation from the moment players stuffed garbage bags with their belongings the day after last January's double-overtime playoff loss to the Ravens.
So by the time preseason arrived, that solitary acceptable outcome had lurked over the entire team for seven months -- through every workout, meeting, organized team activity and practice.
And that's why Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway spoke to the Broncos after a 40-10 preseason defeat at Seattle in which they were physically dominated and manhandled. The opponent and opposing crowd at CenturyLink Field were at a regular-season pitch. The Broncos were bogged down by a series of mistakes that ranged from fumbles to missed blocks and assignments and predictably shredded.
"John pretty much laid it on us," said quarterback Peyton Manning. "He was not happy with that game. It was a butt-kicking, and whether it's preseason or regular season, he was just sharing his thoughts that that won't be accepted under his role as kind of the leader of this organization along with (Owner and CEO) Pat Bowlen."
It may have been "only" preseason, but the loss revealed issues that Elway did not want to see take root.
"Especially coming off the Baltimore loss, I didn't care if it was preseason or regular season, you never go someplace and play like we played up in Seattle and really not care about that and say, 'It's OK,' because if you're competitive, and we want to be as good as we want to be, then that attitude does not transcend to any game," Elway said.
Said Manning: "He talked about what he thought our potential could be and didn't want to see that wasted. So I think guys got the message. If I was reading it the right way, he might've been giving the message to some coaches as well as just the players. Everybody in that room, I think, got the message."
What made Elway's words more resonant was the manner of the speech. Head Coach John Fox said he's had Elway speak to the team "many times," often the night before a game.
But this was in the two-day aftermath of a game. It was motivational in nature, but it was also the words of a boss who needed to push his employees.
"It was (the first time Elway addressed the team) so everybody was paying attention," said linebacker Wesley Woodyard. "It was just a challenge to this football team and the whole organization to do better and not just go out there and be sloppy on the football field. Anytime he talks to us it means a lot and it goes a long way."
Added Manning: "He did not address the team last year at any point. The game was on the weekend (Saturday, Aug. 17), I want to say maybe we had a day off after that, so it was a couple days after the game and we got to the team meeting and he was standing at the front. So you knew something was going on. It was different. It was not normal for him to be in the front of the team meeting; sometimes he'll be in the back."
So jarring was the sight of Elway up front to speak that the first reaction of some players was to pull out a pen and paper or open up their iPads.
"I was taking notes," Manning said. "A lot of players were taking notes."
"He just said that it was just not acceptable with that type of game, talking to the entire team -- the starters played the first quarter and a half, the second, third and fourth guys -- so he was talking to everyone," he continued. "It was a full-on alert that it's not an acceptable performance.
"I think it was a challenge, too, that he saw some real potential in this team, he thought it had the makings of a special team and just wanted to be sure we were going to max out."
Now that the Broncos are in Super Bowl XLVIII, it was clear the message was received.
"When I actually was studying my preseason notes against Seattle, I actually reviewed some of John's talk," Manning said. "Like I said, it was a healthy discussion. He was passionate about it, and I think guys got the message."
Added Elway: "They've done a great job, and from that point on, the concentration level's been great, and we've played hard.
"I told them, 'Sitting in this room, we have the potential to be world champions,' and they've taken me at my word, and they've made me right so far."