ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --For a large part of the season, the Denver Broncos offense was built on the solid foundation of running the football.
The club set a franchise record for rushing yards in a season. However, with an inconsistent passing game, opposing defenses focused on stopping the run knowing that if they did so, they had a chance to be successful.
With the success of the passing game Sunday, defenses can no longer look at the Broncos offense as a one-dimensional unit. They have to account for the fact that they can make plays through the air as well.
"It was big for us because in this league, you have to keep people off balance," receiver Eddie Royal said. "Before our last week, people knew they had to stop the run. Stop the run and they'll shut down our offense. But now, they have to second-guess themselves, 'Oh, they can throw the ball and be explosive and make some pass plays.' It was good for our offense and good for our team to show that we can do that."
If the Broncos can establish a consistent passing game to complement the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack, they could present a big challenge for opposing defenses, as evidenced in Sunday's game.
"I think it's tough because we have a great running game," receiver Demaryius Thomas said. "If you try to stop the running game and then you try to stop the passing game, I feel like it would be tough to try to stop both."
READY FOR A REMATCH
With the victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Wild Card round behind them, the Denver Broncos now turn their attention to their next game: a rematch with the AFC East-champion New England Patriots.
The first time the two teams met a month ago, New England capitalized on a turnover-heavy second quarter from the Broncos to post a 41-23 victory.
This time around, the Broncos know they will have to protect the football.
"Execute your plays, run the ball, don't put the defense in bad situations," running back Willis McGahee said.
In the last game, the offense had two turnovers, the special teams had a muffed punt that gave New England a chance to kick a field goal right before halftime, and the defense gave up 41 points.
In order to get past the Patriots this time around, the Broncos know all three phases will have to be clicking like they were in Sunday's playoff victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I think today was probably the best game we've had as a complete team up to this point," cornerback Andre' Goodman said on Sunday. "I think all three phases did a great job today and we did a great job complementing each other today, which at times we didn't do during the season."
With the dynamic nature of the Patriots offense, which the Broncos saw firsthand, they know they can't give New England any extra opportunities.
"We did some things that are uncharacteristic of us," Royal said. "We're a team that doesn't turn the ball over too much and we did a little bit of that against them. They're an explosive offense with one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game. So when you're playing against a guy like that, you really have to take advantage of every possession that you have."
GAMES ARE WON THROUGHOUT THE WEEK
Last week, defensive end Robert Ayers said, "Games are won on the practice field. The preparation you put in throughout the week, that's when you win games. You don't win them [entirely] on Sunday. I'm a firm believer of that."
That quote was a direct result of the message the veterans on the team and the coaches are trying to instill in the young players as the playoffs got underway.
Head Coach John Fox said that added intensity throughout the practice week is one of the biggest changes come playoff time.
"I think the preparation is where you step it up a notch and where some youthfulness can kind of hurt you if they don't understand that," Fox said. "Between our staff and our veteran leaders, I think they've gotten that message across. Just like when we were on that run during the regular season, every week is the bigger game."
Fox said that is just one of the numerous areas where it helps to have players in the locker room who have been in the league for a long time.
"We have a lot of guys that are young and have not been there but we have some guys that have been around and they've done a fantastic job explaining to the young guys what it takes in the preparation part of it -- and then you just go play the game," Fox said.