DENVER -- Broncos running back C.J. Anderson has already played the disrespect card and, if you’re being honest, you can see where he’s coming from.
It’s rare that a No. 1 seed is actually the underdog in a conference championship game; it’s only happened seven times prior. But here Denver is, three-point dogs with the Patriots coming to Mile High.
"I hate everything about them,” said Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe. “They're always in my way. I got a ton of respect for them. I just hate them."
“I don’t hate em,” said safety T.J. Ward. “I dislike em. Hate is a strong word.”
But that underlying feeling of distaste, shall we call it, hasn’t seemed to impact the Broncos preparation this week.
“I really believe in this team this year,” said linebacker Danny Trevathan. “I really believe that our foot is in the right place; our head is in the right place. We came out here today and put together one of the best practices I’ve seen. It’s definitely going to carry over toward the game Sunday.”
“When we’re loud, we’re pretty good,” said coach Gary Kubiak after Friday’s practice. “I mean, we’ve got a lot of characters on this football team, but they’re very focused. They like to talk in practice. A lot of personalities. They’ve had it this week. They’ve worked hard. They’ve done the work. I told them today after practice, ‘All I can ask you to do is do the work to get ready to play,’ and they’ve done that.”
Kubiak has played a major role in what players say is a transformation here in Denver, not just from the team’s overall identity but in how they work and what they get out of it.
“Coach Kubiak has really encouraged that,” said Peyton Manning earlier in the week. “This is a special opportunity, a unique opportunity and the wrong thing is to just put blinders until Sunday at one o’clock. Enjoy these practices. Enjoy putting the game plan in. That’s what Coach encouraged us to do early in the week and I’m doing that. I think that our whole team is doing that as well. I think that’s a good thing.”
“He’s done a tremendous job,” said linebacker Brandon Marshall. “Gary, the whole staff -- [defensive coordinator] Wade [Phillips], [offensive coordinator Rick] Rico [Dennison] -- those guys have done a tremendous job. We had the talent, but I think every team has talent. I think they just refined the talent. They did awesome in my opinion, which is why we’re in the AFC Championship game.”
This is Kubiak’s ninth AFC Championship Game appearance as a player or coach, but just his first as the head coach. His previous stop as the boss -- in Houston -- was a study in mediocrity. But he seems to have managed some delicate situations well, relying not just on X’s and O’s, but but putting his faith in his players.
“My message has always been, ‘Be yourself, but be your best you.’ That’s what we want them to do. I think they’ve done a good job of that.”
Now comes the ultimate test.