DENVER - In the wake of Denver's season-ending loss, the team will learn as much about itself as it did during an 11-game winning streak.
Head Coach John Fox made that clear in the postgame locker room following Denver's playoff elimination.
"He just said it's disappointing for everybody, but this is where you find out what type of man you are," tight end Jacob Tamme recalled. "It's a long ways before next season. This is kind of where you find out what you're about."
But it was difficult to think about what the future might hold so soon after the team's lofty aspirations came crashing down on a frigid night in Denver. The team had come a long way since training camp. Improvement was steadily made. No one imagined it ending so abruptly.
Wide receiver Eric Decker shook his head as he described the mixed emotions in the locker room.
"Frustration, sadness, disbelief," he said. "Looking back, it was a lot of fun playing with these guys. The ride we've been on -- just unfortunately, Baltimore played better today."
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard summed up his feeling with one word.
"Pain," he said.
But the team captain knows what the club must do from here.
"Look forward to next year," Woodyard continued. "Remember this feeling and come back next year stronger and better. A lot better."
The fact that the Broncos went on an 11-game tear in the regular season to earn the AFC's No. 1 seed is no consolation. The goal was to go all the way. They didn't do that, and now they are coping with it.
"Any time you're not hoisting that trophy up at the end, you're not the last team standing, it's a sad season," Woodyard said. "We always want to be the best. It's tough to lose."
But Woodyard pointed out one thing he takes away from the season that does ease the pain. Everything the team built in 2012 - it won't go anywhere for 2013. The leaders that emerged, the chemistry that was created, the improvements that were made - Woodyard finds some solace in all of it.
"We make plays and we have fun playing with each other," Woodyard said. "I think that's the thing that we got. It's going to make it easier for us to move on past this game after a couple weeks. We have a lot of pieces in the right place and we're going to be back next year, a lot bigger, better, faster, stronger and smarter."
Still, the loss isn't an easy one to shake off. The feeling the Broncos have isn't going away any time soon.
"It's going to last a while," Tamme said. "We have such a good group, such a group of hard workers, guys who do it the right way, laid it all out there and just came up a little bit short. So yeah, that's going to sting for a while."