ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --After Saturday's season-ending loss to the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, the Broncos were back at Dove Valley Sunday cleaning out their lockers as they head their separate ways for the offseason.
But not before they had a chance to come to terms with the roller coaster season that just ended.
"It's been a great season," linebacker Joe Mays said. "We had our ups and downs. But I think we overcame most of (the downs)."
Indeed, when the Broncos started the season 1-4, not many people thought they not only could win the AFC West, but also win a home playoff game against the defending AFC-champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I think it's definitely moving in the right direction," receiver Eddie Royal said. "We hadn't been to the playoffs since 2005 so it was a great step for this organization and these fans really deserved it. (Head) Coach (John) Fox has done a great job coming in here and turning this team into something the fans can be proud of."
With a 9-9 record (including the two playoff games), the Broncos not only more than doubled their win total from last season, they did it with a new coaching staff after having no offseason to work with them.
"The battle, we had to fight against people saying, 'You can't win, you can't do this. You don't have enough talent. You don't have enough time spent with the coaching staff,'" receiver Eric Decker said. "It shows a lot of character of this team, the guys in the locker room, the guys upstairs – the front office and coaching staff – I'm excited because this is a good stepping stone in the right direction for our future."
One aspect of the season the Broncos cherished more than others, is the relationships they've built in the locker room. Throughout the year, players likened the team's chemistry to that of their high school or collegiate teams.
Quarterback Tim Tebow said after Saturday's game that he's "very thankful to have the opportunity to build so many great relationships with teammates and coaches," and defensive tackle Ryan McBean said Sunday one of the biggest things he'll take away from this season is the team's camaraderie.
Those relationships were just strengthened through the way the Broncos' season played out.
"By us having those downs, it forced us to become a close-knit team," Mays said. "In other cases, the team aspect might have broken up a little bit but that's one thing that I love about this team, we never took 'No' for an answer. We were definitely going to try to outwork every person we played. I enjoyed that this year and it was definitely a good year for us."
With that, the Broncos will use those relationships and ties with the coaching staff as the team heads into its first full offseason together. The players believe having the next eight months to work out together, meet with the coaches and participate in Offseason Training Activities will only help the team grow closer and build on-field chemistry.
"It's definitely a better feeling in this locker room after the season than last year, just because we know we are headed in the right direction," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "We just have to build off that."