ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --A year ago, inside linebacker Brandon Marshall knelt alone on the Broncos' sideline during the national anthem to call attention to social-justice issues. He ceased the protest after the first half of the season, but his work on the causes to which he wanted to draw attention continued -- and continues to this day.
Sunday in Buffalo, 31 of his teammates joined him.
"It was a lot different," Marshall said. "Last year I did it all by myself at games. But it's a lot different to have your brothers backing you."
On the surface, the circumstances had changed drastically in the 48 hours leading up to kickoff, given how the public tenor of the debate had changed. But to Marshall, the parameters of his original perspective that led to his protest had not changed one bit.
"I don't see why it gets lost," Marshall said. "People, they just want to focus on what they want to focus on. They just want to focus on, 'It's the flag, it's the flag, it's the flag.'
"But I heard [Ring of Famer] Shannon Sharpe say today, 'We love this country,' which we do. It's just [that] we want to make it better for minorities. The racial inequality, we want to tighten that up; we want to tune that and fix that.
"So when people say, 'You should leave the country,' that's not what you do when you have a problem. You run away from the problem -- that's not what you're supposed to do. If we have an issue, and I feel like everybody should come together and try to fix the issue."
Here is where Marshall and his teammates will stay. Some stood for the anthem Sunday afternoon. Some knelt. All can count on having their beliefs respected within the locker room and throughout the organization, as President/CEO Joe Ellis emphasized in a statement issued Saturday.
"Look at the locker room. We all come from different backgrounds, cities, upbringings, morals, values, but nobody here bashes anybody for their beliefs," Marshall said.
Head Coach Vance Joseph will stand for the national anthem; he believes it is the right thing to do. But he respects his players' right to make their own choices.
"My view hasn't changed with this. I believe in standing for the anthem. That's just my personal belief. I was raised that way. I believe in that," he said. "The flag and the anthem mean a lot to me as far as the freedoms that we [have] every day as U.S. citizens, so it's important for me to stand.
"But that being said, our players have the right to a peaceful protest. That's their right as U.S. citizens. Obviously, the comments didn't sit well with our football team or the entire NFL, but hopefully we can move past this and play football, because politics and football don't mix, in my opinion. Hopefully we can get back to that this week."
The focus will be on football. In the locker room, the occasional discussion of topics beyond football will continue, as it often does. But such conversation will take place with the spirit of respect and brotherhood, as always.
"We had a conversation in here last week about whether God was real or not, and some guys differed on opinions, but at the end of the day, we still came together, we still laughed and we still hung out and still were cool," Marshall said. "Just because he might believe this and I might believe this, it doesn't mean that we can't coexist and still be friends."
PASSING EMPHASIS A RESPONSE TO BILLS' TACTICS**
After two weeks in which the Broncos ran on a higher percentage of their snaps than all but one other team, the Broncos called pass plays on 65 percent of their 66 snaps.
Some of that was due to the game flow, particularly in the fourth quarter, in which the Broncos ran all of their plays when trailing by seven or 10 points. Eleven of their 13 plays in the fourth quarter were pass plays. But much of the emphasis on the pass was based on a response to the Bills' defensive tactics -- which were in part a response to the Broncos' early-season success on the ground.
"They played us in a lot of heavy boxes yesterday, so we thought the pass game would be our advantage," Joseph said. "I was not disappointed about how we attacked that defense.
"Now, that being said, their [defensive backs] played better than I thought they could versus our receivers, so they played well."
A myriad of pre-snap alignments offered by Buffalo's defense also caused problems for Denver's attack.
"I thought they gave us a number of different looks," Joseph said. "They kept us guessing. They played a lot of heavy-box stuff on obvious run downs that forced us to throw the football, and we threw it enough, and we didn't win enough on the outside, and on third downs, they played some shell stuff and brought some pressure stuff that was good stuff. They were coached very well yesterday."
First-down penalties also did not help the Broncos' cause. In the second half, the Broncos committed three penalties in field-goal range and took two penalties on first downs. Overall, six of the Broncos' 13 third-down plays were from 9 or more yards from the line to gain.
"You start getting into those third-and-10s, third-and-12s, third-and-15s, a bunch of those, there's not too many calls my man Mike [McCoy] can make," running back C.J. Anderson said. "We don't sit there and practice third-and-12s all day.
"It's up to us, and part of that is us running the ball on first down effectively, or, if we're passing the ball, make sure we're not putting ourselves in the hole with penalties and false starts and things like that nature."
Take a dramatic look at the Broncos' game against the Bills with black-and-white photos from the field. (Photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)