Chris Hall of DenverBroncos.com sat down with Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway on Wednesday for the first playoff installment of Elway Access.
Sunday’s 38-3 win over the Kansas City Chiefs was a big win for the Broncos in a number of ways. Quarterback Peyton Manning established several single-season franchise records and the victory gave Denver a perfect AFC West record of 6-0. More importantly, the team secured the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and home-field advantage, finishing the season on an 11-game winning streak for a regular-season record of 13-3.
Elway said that before the season, he identified the team’s first six games as a crucial stretch. After the Broncos went 3-3 to start the season, they made steady improvements and got on a roll that led to a finish that exceeded the expectations of even Elway.
“The thing that is encouraging to me is that we’ve improved week in and week out,” Elway said. “That’s why we’re 13-3. Whether I thought the jump was going to be as great as it was, probably not. But the players and the coaches have really done a tremendous job of keeping the concentration level each week and really concentrating on improving, and that’s what we have.”
One of the biggest factors in Denver’s dominance down the stretch was the play of Manning, who was named AFC Offensive Player of the Month in both October and December. Fresh off one of the best regular seasons of his career, Manning is a strong candidate for a fifth NFL MVP award. His play a year after sitting out 2011 due to injury has made his offseason acquisition look better and better in hindsight. One factor Elway believed was in his team’s favor in the competition for Manning was the opportunity to throw to wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker.
“I remember last year when they were talking about Peyton coming to Denver and the fact that our receiving corps wasn’t up to grade as far as some of the other teams that he was talking about,” Elway said. “That was one thing that I thought we had in our back pocket that was kind of a secret, the fact that with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, the talent that they have. We have just seen them make huge strides this whole year and have just a tremendous year. They’ve made unbelievable catches. You saw Eric Decker make a couple against Kansas City, and the one that Demaryius went and got, one-handed in the back of the end zone. We’ve seen great strides in them.”
Decker and Thomas have been as good as Elway expected, combining to lead the league with 23 combined touchdowns and finish third with 2,498 yards receiving. This weekend, with the Broncos enjoying their bye week, Elway will turn his attention to the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. Depending on how Saturday and Sunday’s games turn out, Denver will face either Baltimore, Indianapolis or Cincinnati. Elway knows exactly where he’ll be to watch those teams fight to advance to divisional play.
“I have my one spot,” Elway said. “I call it Big White. My sofa’s called Big White, so I go sit on the corner of Big White and get the clicker, watch the dachshunds run around and have a good time watching football.”
But while Elway will enjoy the view from his couch, he’ll be watching the action more as a scout than a casual fan.
“I’ll be watching scheme, knowing these teams,” Elway said. “Plus we played Cincinnati, plus we played Baltimore. I watched Indianapolis quite a bit last week, so I’ll have a pretty good idea of who they are going in.”