Super Bowl LII shows what a difference two years have made for Broncos

"I think we have great leadership," Von Miller says, "but overall we have to come back ready to find that hunger and keep it as a team." Jamie Squire/Getty Images

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- Just two seasons removed from a Super Bowl appearance, the Denver Broncos are now in a position where they have to dig out from a 5-11 season and try to rediscover their success. Meantime, the team they beat in the AFC Championship Game on the way to that title -- the New England Patriots -- will play for its second consecutive Super Bowl win Sunday.

The fall from their Super Bowl 50 win has been swift and painful. So much so that Broncos president of football operations/general manager John Elway has warned of the dangers of getting comfortable, and this past season went so far as to say the organization had gotten “a little bit soft.’’

As Elway has said this offseason: “Our goals have not changed for the Denver Broncos and what we want to do, and that’s to compete for world championships. Now, we have to build towards that process.’’

The kind of process that has eluded the Broncos in each of the two seasons since Peyton Manning retired. And the kind of process that has Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady trying to win their sixth Super Bowl together.

Josh McDaniels, whose stint as a head coach in Denver was a frustrating one -- he was fired with four games remaining in the 2010 season, just weeks before Elway was hired -- said Thursday that beyond Brady’s stature as a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback, the Patriots’ ability to turn the page from one season to the next has been key.

And as McDaniels is poised to be a head coach again -- he is expected to be introduced as the Indianapolis Colts’ coach following Sunday’s game -- he said it’s a difficult and necessary thing to do for any team, including the Broncos. That’s because it entails, somehow, quickly leaving a Super Bowl win behind, often at the expense of a celebration for something that is a career goal of most everyone in the league.

“It’s a never-ending process regardless of what you achieved the year prior,’’ McDaniels said. “And we attack the offseason -- you would never know in the middle of February what happened the last year in our building because we don’t talk about it. We move to next event … and I think that’s a testament to Bill’s drive.

“… And that may bother some people too, some people may want to enjoy it for a little while,’’ he added. “But I think to keep doing it at a high level, eventually you’ve got to move from the last year.’’

Throughout the 2016 season, when the Broncos finished 9-7 and out of the playoffs, as well as during this past season’s cave-in, several veteran players often lamented how the Super Bowl hangover never seemed to completely go away.

“But we’re a long way from that now,’’ linebacker Von Miller said before the players adjourned for the offseason. “… I think we have great leadership, but overall we have to come back ready to find that hunger and keep it as a team.’’

McDaniels said when the Patriots players return for their first offseason conditioning work in April, it’s made very clear, much like when Belichick has deadpanned that he's “moved on to Cincinnati’’ during the regular season, the new year has begun.

“When they come back in mid-April, it’s got to feel like a different year,’’ McDaniels said. “It’s 2018, it’s 2019 or whatever it is, I don’t think anybody has to chastise anybody, our focus, and everything that they’re hearing is about next season. And at some point the players just figure out it’s about next season.

“ … And you have so manty different people in that squad meeting, that team didn’t win, that team is trying to make its name,’’ McDaniels added. “Bill does a great job of moving on, but he doesn’t do it in a way that disparages what you just did. He just moves on because the next year is important and if we don’t move on to that next year we won’t finish it the way we want to. You can’t wait until June, July or August to kind of turn the page because then it’s too late.’’

McDaniels admitted some groups are more difficult to convince than others and that “we had some teams that were easy to do it and we’ve had challenges. That’s just human nature.’’