ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --It's only game one.
Fifteen more will follow in the regular season, and a long campaign of new challenges and opportunities will accompany them.
Still, as Broncos players acknowledged on Tuesday, it's tough to deny that a rematch with the defending Super Bowl-champion Ravens in the season opener burns with a little more intensity.
"It's just another game but at the same time I don't think you can help having a little extra juice for this one and kicking off the season like this, in the first game," wide receiver Wes Welker said, adding that he's excited his first game as a Bronco will be under such circumstances.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe noted that the motivation stemming from last season's 38-35, double-overtime loss to the Ravens in the Divisional Round of the AFC playoffs – as well as the questions the Broncos have had to shoulder in the face of recent adversity – have helped elevate the team's focus for the game.
"Absolutely. Obviously, we have that sour taste in our mouth still from last year," Wolfe said. "We've got something to prove, obviously losing guys and people are kind of questioning our defense, so we have a lot to prove."
And while it's difficult to ignore the rematch aspect, safety Rahim Moore said that the level of excellence the Ravens organization has achieved on its own makes playing the Ravens all the more exciting.
"It's just a great organization. They did exactly what they did. There's a reason why they're the Super Bowl champions," Moore said. "For me personally, I feel like they don't have any weaknesses on their defense nor their offense and their special teams. They do a fantastic job and the best team's going to win on Thursday."
A return to regular-season football is exhilarating enough, but for rookies like defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, the game holds even more meaning as the first NFL regular-season contests of their lives.
"For me it's the biggest game of the year because it's the next one up. That's how I approach every game," Williams said. "At this point it's the biggest one of my life. At this point it's the most important thing in my life – to go out there and playing well Thursday and being able to win that game and do everything I can to help my team."
Still, despite the fanfare surrounding the game, it's ultimately a regular-season contest that will count the same way in the standings regardless of who the opponent is – as cornerback Chris Harris acknowledged.
"I'm treating it just like another game. It's the Ravens, it's the defending champs, of course we know that," Harris said. "We know the magnitude of this game but I turn into a different person regardless of who we play. I treat it the same and that's how I stay even keel. I try to keep it even keel and that's how I play."
Harris noted that, whatever the outcome, both teams will move forward with their seasons once the dust settles on Thursday night.
"It's just the first game, it's the first game of the season. Whoever wins or loses this game has to strap it on the next week," he said. "We're just looking at it as this is our opponent this week and we're getting ready for them."
For Wolfe, it ultimately comes down to basics – simply playing the very game of football that they've played throughout their lives.
"Well, everybody has to remember that it's just football," he said. "We've been playing this game a long time and it's just another game. As long as you go out there and do your job, you can't be tight – you have to be loose and just let it all out and you'll be fine."
And simply having the opportunity to step back on the field for another NFL season is perhaps most stirring for players like Moore.
In pondering what he'll feel when the game kicks off on Thursday night, Moore noted that his gratefulness for being able to play professional football might be the most powerful sensation.
"I might be crying. I'm an emotional guy when it comes to (playing football)," he said. "I'm just happy to be out there because you never know when it's going to be your last day on this earth, on the field. You never know. Tomorrow is never promised, man. I'll be excited, I'll be happy and I'm going to embrace it when it comes to things like that."