ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On Sunday, the 2012 Broncos took their first step toward next season.
The players came in to the Dove Valley facilities to empty their lockers and move on to the offseason. It wasn't an easy thing to do less than 24 hours after the ride came to an abrupt end.
"It's tough coming here today, cleaning out our lockers, and for some guys, saying goodbye," wide receiver Eric Decker said. "It's going to be a different team next year, a different makeup of guys. It was a blessing to be with my teammates here, and the run we went on and the season we had."
Some players watched film from the game in the morning before coming in. Some said they barely got any sleep after their season came to such a sudden end.
Decker spoke of some goodbyes that had to be said. In the NFL, players changing teams is an inevitable part of the business. Cornerback Champ Bailey has been around long enough to be prepared for that aspect, but he hopes the Broncos keep most of the pieces around.
"We know there will be changes," Bailey said. "I'm hopeful that we can keep most guys here…but it's never going to be like that in this league. People are going to change teams, and that's just the way it goes."
Defensive tackle Justin Bannan described it as a "state of shock." The fans that are a part of Broncos Country and every member of the organization had higher hopes than the Divisional Round. Now, the disappointment of the loss must be recycled into motivation.
"I think this town, this city and everybody in this locker room, the ultimate goal is to win the Super Bowl," Bannan said. "We had no doubt in our mind that's where we were headed. So, I think everyone is in a state of shock. I'm sure the community is in a state of shock. Unfortunately, things like that happen. What do we do? We need to take a step away, get some rest, and come back to the drawing board and get back to it."
Other veterans recognized what the Broncos have built and the potential that they have for 2013. After 15 years in the league, linebacker Keith Brooking isn't sure what the future holds for him. But he knows what it could hold for the Broncos.
"It hurts like hell right now, can't even describe it," Brooking said. "But there are a lot of young players in this locker room that need to use this as motivation, as a spark to have that fire burning inside of them this offseason and come back stronger. Because this is a great locker room. The Denver Broncos are really close."
When the team returns to Dove Valley in a few months, Decker said the heartbreaking loss won't define the team. Instead, the relationships and trust that were built among teammates will be the only lasting effect of the 2012 season.
"You put all your sweat and blood and tears into this," Decker said. "I think it's the camaraderie that you build. It's really the plane rides and the locker rooms after victories that you remember."