The flight home from New England for Eddie Royal and the Broncos was a quiet one.
Denver had just been beaten 45-10 by the Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs to conclude its season. That defeat, combined with the late night departure, meant that not many players were talking or celebrating a surprisingly good season. Rather, they were left thinking and dreaming what could have been.
“(It was) probably like you would have imagined it would be -– quiet, not too many people talking,” Royal said. “I think we learned a lot from that game, just what it takes to be an elite team in this league. We know what it takes to match their intensity. It’s something that we’ll learn from and get better from.”
Indeed, the Broncos headed into this offseason hoping to improve and take the next step to be an elite team in the NFL. Royal knows the offense has to put in the work so that they can go into games against teams like New England and Green Bay and match their scoring output.
“Scoring more points,” Royal said on offensive improvement. “It was a tough game. We just have to match their intensity. They can’t come out quick and put up a lot of points on us, and they just hit us in the mouth. We have to be able to answer that better. I think in these next few years we will be able to do that.”
Still, Royal couldn’t argue with the steps the team took in 2011.
“We hadn’t been in the playoffs since 2005, I believe,” Royal said. “So, that was a great step for this organization. These fans really deserved it. I think [Head] Coach [John] Fox has done a great job coming in here and turning this team into something the fans can be proud of.”
Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway said in his season-ending press conference that Tim Tebow will be the team’s starting quarterback entering training camp, and Royal had kind words about the signal caller as he was cleaning out his locker at the end of the season.
“I think he’s a very good quarterback,” Royal said. “He did a great job with us this year. He took us — a 1-4 team — to the playoffs, and won in the first round. I think that deserves a lot of credit. I think that he’s a tough football player. He never quit until the end as you saw with those fourth-quarter comebacks and those overtime wins. He’s just a guy that you can’t doubt. A lot of people did, and he proved them all wrong.”
Tebow’s never-quit attitude was prevalent in the entire Broncos locker room throughout the season. That team mentality helped Denver win some dramatic, close games in the final moments.
It was a season Royal can’t begin to describe.
“That’s the question, where do you start?” Royal asked. “It was a great year, something you’ll always remember. They guys never gave up at all. It was an up and down season. We didn’t finish the way we wanted to, but we have a positive outlook for next year.”