ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --For an inside linebacker bent on redemption, for a rookie quarterback aching to prove he can succeed at this level, and for an entire team looking for some teal-and-black mouthwash to remove the bitter aftertaste of a crushing overtime loss ... this weekend's game means much more than you'd expect for a 7-4 team facing a 2-9 club whose playoff hopes are mathematically remote.
The Broncos' storylines are rich for this weekend's game, and they start with Brandon Marshall looking to show the team that drafted him what they couldn't see more than three years ago.
- BRANDON MARSHALL'S RETURN TO JACKSONVILLE**
The spotlight has belonged to Broncos-turned-Jaguars defensive end Malik Jackson this week, and he hasn't held back his sentiments about wanting to play spoiler to his old team.
But no player might have more individual motivation in Sunday's game than Marshall. In an 11-month span between October 2012 and the 2013 cut to 53 players, the Jaguars waived Marshall three times.
Marshall admits that he's had this game circled on his calendar for months.
"I've been looking forward to this game for a long time. It's my first time really being able to get back and play -- against the team, and in Jacksonville," he said. "So I'm excited, man. This game means a lot to me. I want to win so bad."
Although Marshall has become a successful player with a long-term contract in Denver, the sting of the Jaguars' rejection of him and his potential lingers.
"It never goes away, man," Marshall said. "I've always thought about it -- what the coach said to me, what the GM said to me, and how I feel I was treated over there, the opportunities that I didn't have. This is something that I've been looking forward to. I can't wait. I'm going to have so much energy, so much juice. I'm excited."
At one point, Marshall paused, unable to find the right words to describe the emotions of being cut three times. The first two moves were made by the Jaguars' previous coaching staff and administration. Jacksonville cleaned house after a 2-14 season in 2012, installing Gus Bradley as the new head coach and Dave Caldwell as general manager.
"My old [position] coach told me that he didn't know if I was going to make it in this league. And then it was weird -- the old GM [Gene Smith] told my agent that he thought I had a bad attitude," Marshall said. "There was a while when the coaches wouldn't even talk to me.
"One time, the old GM [Smith] he cut me and he said, 'Your ankles are stiff.' Stiff ankles! He really said that."
At one point, Marshall had to pause to find the right words as he gathered his thoughts about being cut three times. The wound may be gone, but the scars remain -- and always will.
"With how everything went down, it was very disappointing, and it was -- it was heartbreaking for me," he said.
- PAXTON LYNCH'S RETURN TO THE STARTING LINEUP**
With Trevor Siemian out because of a sprained left foot, Lynch is ready to go, armed with his second full week of work as the No. 1 quarterback.
"I'm really proud of how far he's come and how hard he's worked," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "We need to play [well] around him. That's our job as a football team -- to help him out. But the kid is really working hard at what he does."
WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, in particular, can provide the most help with their routes -- and also in helping Lynch in the huddle, he noted.
Both of them also give Lynch feedback in practice, along with assistant coaches.
"You get a lot of helpful insight from everybody," Lynch said.
One target area in particular is in terms of his ability to relay play-calls in the huddle.
"It's gotten better as the weeks have gone on," Lynch said. "When I first got here, it was really tough, but it's just something you've got to study and keep doing -- not just here, but when you go home. I feel a lot more confident getting in and out of the huddle."
- DEFENSE HAS AMPLE MOTIVATION FOR REDEMPTION**
Redemption starts with limiting mistakes -- starting with six penalties committed by the Broncos, five of which came either on the last drive of regulation or in overtime.
Miller committed one of the offside penalties on the Chiefs' game-tying drive in the fourth quarter, setting the Chiefs up in a first-and-5 situation they easily converted.
"I just can't put my team in those types of situations, especially to win the game. If you jump offside, now it's first-and-5. The secondary is hard to play with a first down with five yards to go," Miller said.
"I just have to be more focused in the moment. Jumping offside is going to happen. It happens to all the greats. It just can't happen in those moments. At the beginning of the game, the first series, the second series, but just not at the end of the game."
What rankles the defense most is the fact that for one day, it failed where it had succeeded so many times. Late-game stands helped define the Broncos' defense as elite in the last two years; such a collapse is 180 degrees from their level of play -- and their expectations for themselves. It's not what they do.
"Hell, no," Marshall said. "We're going to come out and try to get back to doing us."
4. KALIF RAYMOND EARNS HIS PROMOTION
A hearty round of applause from the entire team greeted the news that Raymond would move from the practice squad to the 53-man roster when Kubiak announced it in the team meeting Friday morning.
"It means a lot," Raymond said. "I go out here and I try to work as hard as I can, so I feel like that means my teammates see the same thing. So to get that promotion and have them congratulate me, it meant a lot."
Kubiak noted that he liked having the chance to "reward" players like Raymond with spots on the 53-man roster. It's an especially valuable honor given that he had a chance to join the 53-man roster of the New York Jets in recent weeks, but opted to remain on Denver's practice squad.
"No matter how I can contribute, to be a part of this team is an experience. I couldn't ask for anything more," Raymond said. "It was an easy decision. I slept well that night."
Raymond's speed and quickness is impossible to ignore, and ensured at some point, he would get his shot.
"He brings a dimension to our special-teams unit that only he can bring with the speed that he has," Lynch said.
"His speed is just crazy to just watch and see how quick he moves, and how fast he really is."
Will Paxton Lynch get the best of Dante Fowler? Can Matt Paradis contain Malik Jackson? The answers may decide the winner of Sunday's game. (Photos by AP)
- RAYMOND COULD BE IN THE MIX RIGHT AWAY**
Kubiak said that both Raymond and Jordan Norwood would play Sunday. Fellow wide receiver Bennie Fowler was ruled out with a knee injury, but that still leaves seven wide receivers available, including Cody Latimer, inactive for four of the last five games, and recent signee Marlon Brown.
Raymond could end up seeing some time on punt returns after Norwood muffed two punts last week. If that happens, Raymond says he's ready.
"For the past couple of weeks, I've been doing extra punts, for whenever I did have my opportunity," Raymond said. "They haven't said much, but they said, 'Make sure you're ready when your time comes.'"
That comes on top of the scout-team work on offense he's received, which pits him against Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby on a daily basis.
"I picked up on how I need to sell my routes and stuff like that, or how I need to sell run plays and pass plays, how you shouldn't be able to tell what I'm doing based on my alignment, based on my body language, because these guys are so intelligent," Raymond said. "They know if you're inside release, it's probably an inside route. They know everything. They know all phases of the game.
"A lot of times, the way they study film, they know what I'm doing before I do. From that standpoint, it lets me know I need to be very particular and detailed with my route-running and blocking and everything I do at receiver."
The cornerbacks' intense knowledge of what an opposing offense -- and the Broncos' own scout team -- wants to do led to perhaps the biggest lesson they offered Raymond this season.
"The craziest thing is, because they're so smart, if I do a play wrong, they go, 'Hey, that's not what you're supposed to be doing,' because they watch so much film," Raymond said. "It shows me how much they study and how much film they watch and what they do to prepare for a game. So I actually learned on the field what I need to do off the field to prepare like they do, so when that time comes, I'm prepared just like they are."