Negative reinforcement? Unbeaten Broncos watch 2012 playoff loss every week

Rahim Moore dives and falls up just short of deflecting a game-tying touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 12, 2013. (Photo: Twitter, @PrinceofBelEric)

Rahim Moore dives and falls up just short of deflecting a game-tying touchdown pass against the Baltimore Ravens on Jan. 12, 2013. (Photo: Twitter, @PrinceofBelEric)

DENVER — If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Sincerely,
Your first grade teacher.

Apparently you and the Denver Broncos didn’t have the same first grade teacher.

After every one of their blowout wins so far this season, the Broncos’ offense has hosted a players-only meeting to re-watch every one of their “blown plays.” They continue to re-watch those plays until someone either fesses up to a blunder or is called out by Peyton Manning, the film session’s unofficial (and yet completely official) ring leader.

There is little chance that the game tape from their crushing 2012 playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens sparks positive dialogue in a room full of blue and orange. And yet each of the Bronco offense’s weekly film sessions isn’t complete without a screening of every minute of that horror flick.

Broncos offensive lineman Orlando Franklin described these film sessions during one of his weekly appearances on the Sandy Clough radio program on 104.3 The Fan this week.

Franklin also went on to say just how much he loves these sessions.

“I absolutely hate them,” he told Clough. “But it’s absolutely the best thing for us.”

Why is that? It has everything to do with the sessions’ lack of positive reinforcement.

“You have to humble yourself so much,” Franklin said. “You have to sit there and watch this film with your peers, and you have to point out your mistakes. But everyone is doing it, and I think that’s what makes us a better team.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Did Franklin just use the “everyone else is jumping off a bridge, so I’m going to do it too” argument to justify negative reinforcement?

Yes he did. And that’s just fine by Metro State sports psychologist Rick Perea.

Theoretically, it’s true that positive reinforcement is the preferred sort, Perea told Clough. “But sometimes in the real world,” he continued, “theories don’t always play out.”

In Perea’s mind, the act of harping on one’s mistakes can actually be framed as a positive exercise, while the act of basking in the positive can be seen as a negative.

As an anecdote, Perea used the University of Alabama’s football program, one that perennially contends for the national title at the collegiate level.

“You can hang around that program for two weeks and never hear the word ‘win,’” Perea said. “It’s not about winning. It’s about the process that it takes to get there. I think the Broncos are doing a great job in terms of emphasizing the process.”

And the biggest part of that process right now is to focus on each and every mistake they’re making — minuscule though they may seem after a perfect 4-0 start.

So infuriating though it may be, that’s why you’ll never get Peyton Manning to admit he’s having one of the greatest seasons for a quarterback in NFL history. It may also be why players like Von Miller, who have shown a tendency to celebrate personal accomplishments in the midst of team failures (see: Miller’s bucking bronco dance late in a 2012 loss to the Atlanta Falcons), seem to be falling out of favor with their Bronco teammates and coaches.

So go ahead: The next time you find yourself incapable of saying anything constructive, it just may be the perfect time to speak up.

And if your first grade teacher calls your actions indefensible, just say, “So are the Denver Broncos.”