--Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has only recently become comfortable discussing the plight of his grandmother, Minnie Thomas, and mother, Katina Smith, both of whom are in a low-security women's prison in Tallahassee, Fla.
The two were convicted of trafficking cocaine when Thomas was 12. And even though Thomas' closest female relatives speak to him weekly, those conversations took on an greater meaning after the Broncos receiver capped a 204-yard performance with a game-winning touchdown in the wild-card game against the Steelers.
"It was a big moment," Thomas said.
His grandmother could barely hide her excitement.
"She was like, 'Me and the girls were watching you on TV,'" Thomas said. "'We're so excited.'"
Slow Start No Problem
--Denver is one of just five teams to start a season 2-5 or worse and still reach the postseason.
The others: the 1970 Bengals (1-6 to 8-6); 1990 Saints (2-5 to 8-8); 1995 Lions (2-5 to 10-6) and 2002 New York Jets (2-5 to 9-7).
It's that type of turnaround -- coupled in the Broncos' case with a season-ending three-game losing streak, followed by a shocking win over 12-4 Pittsburgh in the wild-card round -- that prompted running back Willis McGahee to call this experience the most fun he's ever had in the postseason.
"I'm just happy to be a part of this team," he said. "This is a team where people didn't expect us to do anything coming into this year. We didn't start out the way everybody wanted us to start out, so they kind of wrote us off early. Now, we're sitting here shocking people."
--Both of the Broncos' coordinators were getting some love as head-coaching candidates, given Denver's surprising turnaround.
But, in the end, that success cost offensive coordinator Mike McCoy his chance to interview with the Jaguars.
McCoy had been slated to interview on Jan. 9, the day after the Pittsburgh game, had Denver lost. But that plan had to be scrapped as preparations for the Patriots began in earnest on a short week.
The Jaguars went ahead and hired Mike Mularkey as Jack Del Rio's replacement.
"Like I told them some time on Saturday (the day before the wild-card game), I had a very strong belief that we were going to win the football game," McCoy said. "So I couldn't go as early as they wanted me to go. I talked to (Jaguars GM) Gene Smith, and he wished me the best of luck. He had to do what was best for the organization."
Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has the advantage of Rams majority owner Stan Kroenke owning Denver-based Kroenke Sports and the downtown Pepsi Center arena. So St. Louis officials flew into town and were due to meet Jan. 12 with Allen, after the bulk of the Broncos' on-field prep for New England has been completed.
"It's obviously exciting, but really, at the end of the day, in my mind it's more of a tribute to those players that are in the locker room," he said. "It's a tribute to the assistant coaches that I work with every day. When you have success as a team, individual achievements come. Obviously, I'm thrilled about it, but my focus is going to be to try to win a game against the New England Patriots."
BY THE NUMBERS:
5 -- Teams without a regular-season winning record that have won a game in the playoffs over the past decade. Denver joined that group with its overtime victory against Pittsburgh. The previous four teams to enter the postseason with a non-winning record (Denver finished the regular season 8-8) were eliminated in the divisional round.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I love listening to people hate on us because we get to prove them wrong. I mean, you can hate if you want to, but we're still here and we're moving forward. The more you hate, the more we feed off of it." -- Tight end Daniel Fells, on the prevailing opinion that Denver has little shot against New England, even after the Broncos eliminated Pittsburgh.
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