A day after his Denver players repeatedly wrapped their arms around New England quarterback Tom Brady, Broncos Coach Gary Kubiak was still wrapping his mind around his team moving on to Super Bowl 50.
"I woke up this morning," he said, "and we get to play again."
Kubiak spoke to reporters at his regular Monday news conference, although his players are off until Thursday when they will begin preparation for the Feb. 7 Super Bowl against Carolina.
The Broncos turned in a defensive masterpiece in their 20-18 victory over the Patriots, landing a staggering 20 hits on Brady, who was constantly under siege. To put that in perspective, the next-closest number of hits Brady absorbed in a game this season was 12 by Philadelphia. There were 10 games when he was hit five times or fewer.
"First off, he's really hard to get to, so I think that's what's really impressive about it," said Kubiak, who relies on coordinator Wade Phillips to draw up the defense. "Being at home, having the opportunity to play at home with our fans, our place was loud. We got off the ball probably as well as I saw us get off all year with our edge guys and stuff."
The challenge ahead is getting a jump start on Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the presumptive NFL most valuable player who directed Carolina to a 49-15 blowout of Arizona in the NFC championship game. He threw for two touchdowns in that game and ran for two more.
"He's a little different," Kubiak said of Newton, cracking a smile at the understatement. "It's really great how they've set it up to their talents offensively and what they're doing. . . .
"I don't know that we've faced the dual-threat guy like him this year with our schedule. I saw him firsthand last year. We played him last year when I was in Baltimore. It'll be different for us. Having to tackle him out in the open field, having to defend the quarterback runs and those types of things will be something different for us. It's nice to have a couple weeks [to prepare]."
The Monday after a game is when NFL players come into their respective headquarters for treatment, and among those in Denver were outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib, both of whom made key contributions against the Patriots. Ware was part of that relentless pass rush. Talib deflected Brady's do-or-die two-point conversion pass at game's end, leading to an interception by Bradley Roby.
"It was just guys out there playing football," Talib said of the play in question. "I was the guy Tom picked to throw the ball to, and I was able to get my hand on it."
Talib, who spent his first five seasons with Tampa Bay, has played against Newton nine times in his career, calling the quarterback "super unique."
"You can sit in the pocket and throw it, and then you can run, run wide out," Talib said, listing Newton's attributes. "You probably could play any position in the NFL that you wanted to. . . . He's probably the most dangerous quarterback in the NFL right now."
Ware, who's in his 11th season and had only one playoff victory with Dallas before coming to the Broncos in 2014, was clearly pleased with Sunday's outcome . . . but also subdued.
"I'm excited right now," he said, speaking softly but easing into a smile. "You probably don't know it. You're probably like, 'Is DeMarcus excited or not?' I am excited, but the thing is that you have one more game left, then you can celebrate. Then you can do the things that this game is about. It's still business for me."