The Denver Broncos were riding high going into the playoffs, winners of 11 straight games and ranked as the AFC's No. 1 seed. But it all came crashing down Sunday, as Denver fell at home in overtime, 38-35, to the Baltimore Ravens. After such a disappointing end to such a successful season, Broncos players have been left emotionally raw.
Immediately following the game, it was a somber scene in the Denver locker room, as many players were in a state of disbelief:
Wide receiver Eric Decker shook his head as he described the mixed emotions in the locker room.
"Frustration, sadness, disbelief," he said. "Looking back, it was a lot of fun playing with these guys. The ride we've been on -- just unfortunately, Baltimore played better today."
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard summed up his feeling with one word.
"Pain," he said.
Woodyard went on to take a more positive outlook, saying the team is "looking forward to next year" and that the Broncos will come back "stronger and better." Still, he had to acknowledge that the quick end to Denver's playoff run tarnished the team's solid season:
"Any time you're not hoisting that trophy up at the end, you're not the last team standing, it's a sad season," Woodyard said. "We always want to be the best. It's tough to lose."
Quarterback Peyton Manning, who threw an overtime interception that led to the Ravens' game-winning field goal, seems to be handling the loss well. He's looking at the loss as an opportunity to prepare for the future:
"That was another good hurdle for me," Manning told Mike Klis of The Denver Post. "Weather-wise, we had not had anything like that all season. There was some unknown going into that game. You can't simulate it. I tried everything from putting my hand in a freezing tank. But you just can't simulate it. Next year, the Super Bowl's in New York. So that was a good hurdle for me to be effective in those type of conditions."
While Manning's optimism may sound a bit strange, it should be remembered that he came back from a year without football in 2012. For the future Hall-of-Famer, just being able to experience the emotions of the game was something he missed:
"When you're not playing, you miss out on all the highs, but you also miss these disappointments. But I would rather be in the arena to be excited or be disappointed than not have a chance at all. That's football. That's why everybody plays it. You have to be able to take the good with the bad."