ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --After the game Sunday, the mood in the Denver Broncos locker room was one of mixed emotions.
On one hand, the team had just lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 7-3 to close out the regular season with three straight losses, but on the other, they were heading to the playoffs as the AFC West champions.
The players didn't get the celebratory T-shirts and hats right away after the game that are often handed out. In fact, there was very little celebrating at all.
"We know that we have a lot of work to do," receiver Eddie Royal said. "There's not a whole lot of celebrating going on right now. We have a tough team coming in here to play us. We have to get ready for them."
Less than 24 hours later, the mood had shifted upwards, as the players watched film from Sunday's loss in order to put the game behind them. They diagnosed their mistakes and are now focused on correcting them so that they can be ready for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Broncos first playoff game in six years.
Head Coach John Fox addressed the team in the locker room after Oakland's loss clinched the AFC West for the Broncos yesterday, and safety Brian Dawkins did the same with the team Monday morning. The 16-year veteran has been to the playoffs eight times in his career, and told the young Broncos team that it's time to move forward.
"What Coach Fox said to us after the game and what Brian Dawkins said to us right now in the meeting we just had as a team, we need to correct the mistakes that we had in the Kansas City game but we need to move on now because it's a new season and anything can happen from here on out," tight end Dante Rosario said. "It's truly one game at a time. This is our one chance, this game coming up against the Steelers, for us to do something to continue our season."
While the Steelers are favored against the Broncos, there is precedent to give the Broncos hope. Last year, the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks beat the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints in the wild card round of the playoffs. The previous year, those same Saints lost their last three games of the regular season before going all the way to win the Super Bowl.
Fox also has a great track record in the first round of the playoffs, going 2-0 thus far in his head coaching career.
"It's what you make it," Fox said. "I know not too many years ago, there was a team in New Orleans that lost their last three, and I think they won the Super Bowl."
But the players aren't thinking that far ahead just yet. As Rosario said, they know that they need to win this week in order to keep playing, and after watching film Monday morning, that is now what they are entirely focused on.
"It's a clean slate, new season," running back Lance Ball said. "That's how we have to handle it. The past is the past. We're in here now. We're all for one goal. We just have to get back to the winning ways."