ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The sky did not fall at Dove Valley this week. I know this, because when I parked my car outside team headquarters and walked to the media room, I gazed up and looked, just to be sure.
I felt as though I had to check, because whenever you turn on the radio, log in to Twitter, or overhear conversations at the gas station or talk to friends, the topic of the local football team inevitably spurs frustrated chatter, a pained look, or maybe even a few beads of sweat.
"Bronco fans, they're high-maintenance," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "That's good, (be)cause when we do win, sometimes it's not good enough. They always want us to win 100-0 every week."
With snow melting at Dove Valley, DeMarcus Ware led the breakdown as the Broncos continued preparation for Sunday's matchup against the Dolphins.
And when that not only does not happen, but the team absorbs two losses by 15 or more points in three weeks -- which were the first regular-season defeats of that magnitude since December 2011?
That's when the "p-word" sets in among some pockets of the fan base. Yes, panic.
If that sentiment seeped into the team itself, fans would have every right to fret. But that five-letter word was a step too far in describing the mood in the locker room.
"I wouldn't use that word," said quarterback Peyton Manning. "I think there definitely is a sense of urgency. I think when you lose a game, what we've talked about offensively this week is everybody focuses on doing their job better and you hope that results in better offensive play.
"It looks like a panic on the outside, but on the inside we're perfectly fine, and we'll be ready to go," said running back C.J. Anderson.
But that doesn't mean the Broncos don't see how crucial this moment is. They are one of nine AFC teams with three or four losses. Miami, at 6-4, is another. Three more of those clubs lurk in the four games after Sunday's duel with the Dolphins, and all of those games -- against Kansas City, San Diego and Cincinnati -- will be on the road.
With postseason contenders lurking, the Broncos have no time to dawdle; they must fix as many of their issues as possible, posthaste.
"Me personally, I feel like this is probably the most key moment of our season," Knighton said. "I'm pretty sure there's a lot of team that wish they had our record right now and were in the position that we are, but we have such high expectations for ourselves.
"How we respond in this game will tell a lot about the team, and I think this can either be a set up for a good run to go into the playoffs or a bad run so I think this is probably the most key game of our schedule."
Still, the questions about the mood of the team will linger until a result to change the sentiment takes place. Even my two-year-old daughter notices. When I walked into my house Wednesday evening, her first words, after saying, "Hi," were, "How was Broncos?"
At midweek, they were just fine. On heightened alert? Absolutely. But there was nothing resembling a panic, not at 7-3, not with a return home after a wobbly three-game road swing, and not with control of the AFC West still in their grasp if they can fix the problems that ail them.
Concern was abundant in the locker room, but self-doubt was scarce.
"Most definitely. There's no doubt at all," said Anderson. "We know we're a good football team, and we know what we can do, and we know that when we bring our A-plus game, every game, we'll give teams hell."
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