ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos returned from their bye knowing that if they are to reclaim the AFC West crown, they will have to do two things.
First, they can't drop any of the clearly winnable games on their schedule. They already had one lapse in Buffalo. They can't afford another in games against the Giants (0-5) and Chargers (1-4) in the next two weeks.
Second, they will have to beat the Chiefs, the NFL's last unbeaten team, whom they face Oct. 30 and again in Week 17.
That game has been in the back of the Broncos' minds since the day after roster cuts to 53, when outside linebacker Shane Ray was placed on injured reserve after tearing wrist ligaments on the second day of training camp. Although recallable injured reserve means missing eight weeks, the Broncos' schedule -- which included a bye and a Monday night game in Week 8 -- meant that Ray would only miss six games.
"I got my pins out and that was awesome to be able to get feeling in my fingers and move my arm around," he said. "I feel good. My biggest concern was my strength in my hand coming back. Now I don't really have that concern, especially knowing that I'll be casted and I'll be able to use all of my fingers and my thumb. I'm excited."
His first regular-season game is scheduled to be in Kansas City on Monday Night Football.
"I don't think it could play out any better," Ray said. "With how well the Chiefs are playing, I feel like we're the team to beat them. I feel like we're the team that balances up against them very well.
"For me to come back in that game to add some pass rush, I'm so excited. I want to be a part of the reason why we take them down and really take over our division."
But there's another reason that Ray is excited: a defensive line that has emerged as a force.
"Oh, man, just looking at Big Pek (Domata Peko Sr.) and (Derek) Wolfe and Shelby (Harris), seeing how those guys are just causing havoc in there and creating one-on-ones for everyone else, I'm licking my chops," Ray said, "because I know most teams are going to slide their protection to Von (Miller) and chip, and they're going to leave that back side open, and that's where we've got to make our money."
If Ray is feasting, so might the team. But first there are two more games without him -- two more that the Broncos must win.
Broncos head coach Vance Joseph is big on slogans. And he's big on putting them on shirts to get his players to think about them constantly.
"Truth." "Championship Habits." And now, "More," which was emblazoned on a T-shirt he wore during the Broncos' Monday practice.
"The message to our team is to do more," Joseph said. "We want more effort, more focus, more detail and more commitment. That's our message. As we move through the season, hopefully with success -- as we have success, we want to do more to keep our edge so to speak. That's our message after the bye. Let's do more than what we did the first quarter (of the season)."
Last year, the Broncos started 4-0, but then went 2-2 in the second and third quarters of the season before fading to a 1-3 record in the final four games of the season.
"This shirt? It's everything on it. Detail, effort and commitment," said safety Will Parks. "A relentless attitude and being accountable. When mistakes pop up on the field, in the locker room or wherever, just man up to it. Tell the truth to yourself and look yourself in the mirror."
The Broncos got tight end Jake Butt in the fifth round entirely because the former Michigan standout saw his draft stock take a hit because of a torn ACL suffered in last year's Orange Bowl -- his second ACL tear in a four-year span.
Now they will start finding out what they have.
Butt, who began the season on the non-football injury list, is expected to begin practicing next week, Broncos head coach Vance Joseph announced at his press conference Monday.
"(Tuesday) is nine months, and what my doc told me was that nine months was when I was going to get cleared, so even if I do get cleared tomorrow, I've got to wait for the beginning of Week 7 so I can start practicing," Butt said.
When Butt starts practicing, the Broncos will have 21 days to evaluate him before having to decide whether to move him to the 53-man roster or leave him on the non-football injury list for the remainder of the season.
"I want to make this team," Butt said. "I don't want to be handed a spot. I want to earn this and make this team. I've been having to do that off to the side without the coaches really coaching me and outside of meetings and everything. That's been the hardest part. I want to make this team."
NOTES: WR Cody Latimer continues to deal with knee soreness and did not practice Monday. Latimer sat out the Week 4 game against Oakland and was replaced by Jordan Taylor. ... OLB Shane Ray will begin practicing next week and is expected to play against the Chiefs on Oct. 30. Ray has been on injured reserve because of torn wrist ligaments. ... TE Jake Butt is expected to practice next week. The Broncos will then have three weeks to decide whether to move him off the non-football-injury list and onto the 53-man roster. ... QB Paxton Lynch is expected to get what Broncos coach Vance Joseph called a "brief" throwing session on Thursday or Friday of this week. Lynch has not practiced since suffering a sprained right shoulder Aug. 26 against the Packers.
REPORT CARD AFTER 4 GAMES
--PASSING OFFENSE: B - Trevor Siemian has been steady, but he hasn't been able to avoid turnovers; he didn't go through a game without an interception until Week 4. Although the passing game has typically been effective when needed, it hasn't been a game-changer, and neither Demaryius Thomas nor Emmanuel Sanders is yet on a 1,000-yard pace. However, the Broncos are getting increased production from their collection of tight ends and could get a boost if rookie Jake Butt joins the lineup in the next few weeks.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: A - C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles have become one of the league's best one-two punches so far this season, and an overhauled offensive line has done a good job driving off the snap to create massive holes for the two veteran running backs, who have combined for 505 rushing yards through four games. Denver has more rushes (130) than pass attempts (126) so far this season.
--PASS DEFENSE: B-plus - Denver got to Tyrod Taylor for four sacks and four other hits, but Taylor found open receivers downfield, exploiting gaps in the Broncos' coverage for 213 yards on 20-of-26 passing with no interceptions. Denver's young safeties struggled in coverage at times, as the Broncos appeared to miss safety T.J. Ward more than in the first two games of the regular season.
--RUSH DEFENSE: A-plus - No team has allowed fewer rushing yards per game and per carry than the Broncos this season, and the team's numbers in both categories are the best at this point in a season in franchise history. The defensive line is the biggest reason why; the addition of nose tackle Domata Peko Sr. and the added bulk for their returning defensive linemen has allowed the Broncos to win most plays at the line of scrimmage and given their linebackers the freedom to attack plays that they didn't have last year while coping with linebackers at the second level.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: C - Brandon McManus' 29-yard missed field-goal attempt in Week 4 represents some cause for concern, given that it's his third miss of the season. But he's hit 18 of his 21 total kicks (including extra points) so far this year, and his distance on kickoffs remains among the league's leaders. Rookie Isaiah McKenzie has broken off three punt returns of at least 20 yards. Punter Riley Dixon's net average is down from last year, to 40.3, and the Broncos have been plagued by penalties that have cost them big returns and field position.
--COACHING: B-plus - So far, so good. Vance Joseph's decision to meld holdovers from Gary Kubiak's staff with experienced new arrivals helped the offense immediately become more efficient, while reinvigorating a defense with more aggressive play-calls. The biggest tests are yet to come, but Joseph's willingness to build an offensive staff that features three position coaches with NFL coordinator experience has helped get the offense out of a two-year slide.