ATLANTA --Facing a 20-0 deficit late in the first half, there were two ways the Broncos could have responded.
"You're going to have times where you're going through fire and you're having a tough time," wide receiver Eric Decker said. "Are you going to come back from this, or are you just going to melt and lose it?"
Denver took the first option.
Though the comeback attempt fell just short in the 27-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, the Broncos learned something about one another that will help the team as they move forward in the 2012 season.
"Through all the adversity, you could still see the confidence in everybody," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "Everybody was still fighting, and that says a lot."
A late second-quarter touchdown from quarterback Peyton Manning to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas closed the gap by a score of 20-7 heading into halftime. But in the second half, the Falcons struck first with another touchdown.
With less than 20 minutes of game clock remaining and the Broncos trailing by 20 once again, the score wasn't the only thing working against Denver. It's humid, it's hot, it's loud – but there's no excuse," defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said. "If we could have played the first half like we played the second half, we would have been fine."
After the Falcons' third-quarter touchdown, the Broncos outscored Atlanta 14-0, and were one defensive stop away from the offense having a chance to win the game in the final minutes.
"I think we build on the fact that nobody on the team quit," said Thomas, who led the Broncos with seven catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. "We were down 20-7, still couldn't score in the third quarter, but we came out and scored 14 in the fourth quarter. I just feel like everybody kept playing and nobody quit. If you've got a team like that that just never gives up, I think we can build from that."
To allow the offense opportunities to score two fourth-quarter touchdowns, the Denver defense stood strong by forcing the Falcons to two straight three-and-outs. The Broncos limited Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to just 1-for-3 passing for 6 yards, and held running back Michael Turner and Atlanta's ground game to 3 yards per carry on nine attempts in the fourth quarter.
But in the end, the Falcons converted on one last third down and were able to run the clock out.
"We fought our tails off throughout the last three quarters," Bailey said. "We have to get off the field on that third down at the end just to give our offense another chance."
With the way the offense was operating late in the game, Thomas liked Denver's chances if the defense was able to get that last stop.
"If they would have held, I feel like we would have won the game," Thomas said.
The outcome wasn't what the Broncos aimed for, but as they look back on the loss, there's plenty to be positive about.
Among the positives – running back Willis McGahee topped 100 yards and scored two touchdowns at a pace of more than five yards per carry, and the team came together in the fourth quarter working from all cylinders.
But most importantly, the Broncos now know that resiliency is a common trait on this team.
"I think we can hold up our head as a group because nobody quit," Thomas said. "Everybody just kept playing the whole 60 minutes. I feel we can build off that."