The bruises have had some time to heal and the sting of losing a heartbreaker to Houston has faded. The Denver Broncos are ready to get back to work after their bye week.
"Body feels really rested up," nose tackle Domata Peko Sr. said Monday. "Really helps out when we're going through injuries and stuff to rest up the body. And not only the body, but mentally. Just getting some rest, being able to watch some games on Sunday and just reset. Reset, get back to trying to get one."
The "one" Peko refers to is a win, which has been in short supply for Denver this season. The Broncos (3-6) have lost five of their last six since starting 2-0 and the first challenge out of the off week is playing the Los Angeles Chargers.
Los Angeles is a tough task for Denver. The Chargers (7-2) are playing well and are giving the Kansas City Chiefs a race in the AFC West. Quarterback Phillip Rivers is playing at a high level in his 15th season and running back Melvin Gordon III is a matchup nightmare for teams.
The Broncos aren't playing for a playoff berth (barring a seven-game winning streak to end the season and a bunch of help), but there is a motivating factor beyond pride. Denver has lost nine straight road games within the AFC West, which comes on the heels of five straight division titles for the Broncos.
Denver's last divisional road win was at the then-San Diego Chargers on Dec. 6, 2015. The inability to win on the road in the division is something the players want to change.
"It feels like forever since we've won a game," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "I don't care who it is, I just want to win. I just want to win next week and take it one game -- one play, one series -- take it one game at a time."
Denver should get a boost with the return of some injured players. Safety Darian Stewart (neck), running back Royce Freeman (ankle), cornerback Bradley Roby (ankle) and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton (knee) are on track to practice this week after missing time.
"Obviously the time that we had over the break and the time those guys missed was obviously good for their injuries, so they should be back hopefully working Wednesday," head coach Vance Joseph said.
The drama surrounding the trading deadline has also had time to pass. The Broncos dealt wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to Houston on a Tuesday and then played the Texans five days later. It was a dominating storyline for the game, and then fuel was added when Thomas said on 760 AM in Denver that he was misled by the team about possibly being dealt and expressed frustration that he was not named a captain.
Joseph said last week it was time to move on.
"He's got to move on. We've got to move on," Joseph said. "He's no longer a Bronco, and I can't spend any time worrying about that. But as far as reading that stuff, I'm disappointed it was presented that way, I really am."
BRONCOS SIGN BACKUP CENTER: Moving to bolster their depth on the offensive line after a season-ending injury to center Matt Paradis, the Broncos on Monday signed center Gino Gradkowski.
In a corresponding move, Paradis, who suffered a fractured left fibula and torn ligaments in last week's loss to the Texans, was placed on injured reserve.
Gradkowski, a seventh-year player from Delaware, has been out of football for most of the last two years. He spent time with the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers in their respective training camps last summer and in 2017. He has appeared in 53 career games, including 20 starts while playing for Baltimore (2012-14), Atlanta (2015) and Carolina (2016).
Originally a fourth-round draft pick in the 2012 draft by Baltimore, Gradkowski does have some Denver connections. He spent an offseason with the Broncos after being acquired in a 2015 trade with the Ravens.
Gradkowski is expected to play behind Connor McGovern, who took over for Paradis after he went down with the leg injury against the Texans.
--C Matt Paradis, as expected, was placed on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season. Paradis suffered a broken left leg and torn ligaments late in the first half of the Nov. 4 loss to Houston. Paradis had played 3,850 consecutive snaps to start his career entering the game against the Texans.
--C Gino Gradkowski was signed to add depth to the offensive line. Gradkowski hasn't played in a regular-season game in more than two years but will likely serve as Connor McGovern's backup.
--RB Royce Freeman is expected to practice this week and play Sunday at the Los Angeles Chargers. Freeman has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain suffered at Arizona on Oct. 18.
--S Darian Stewart has been cleared to practice after missing two games with a neck injury suffered at Arizona on Oct. 18.
--CB Bradley Roby will return to practice Wednesday after missing one game with an ankle injury.