DENVER, JAN. 21 -- At this time last year, the atmosphere at Broncos headquarters was super-charged and euphoric. This year, it's all business.

"When we won the AFC last year," said defensive end Rulon Jones, "it was total elation. I think we'll feel that elation after the Super Bowl. We're more calm this year, but we're just as hungry. When we step onto the field, we're going to be as hungry as we have all year."

Explaining the no-nonsense attitude that pervades the team as it prepares for Super Bowl XXII, rookie wide receiver Ricky Nattiel said, "They went last year and lost. A better word to describe the feeling this year would be concerned. Losing the Super Bowl two years in a row would be hard to stomach."

That's not to say the Broncos are predicting an easy victory over the Redskins on Jan. 31.

"I think we're two evenly matched football teams," said quarterback John Elway after a two-hour practice today at Mile High Stadium. "They have explosive receivers and so do we, and we can both put points on the board. I anticipate a very good football game."

Responding to questions about a defensive strategy aimed at containing him and limiting the pass offense, Elway alluded to the AFC championship game against Cleveland last week.

"Cleveland tried to rush three guys and had a spy on me," he said. "Then they went to four guys." Despite the Browns' efforts, Elway was able to scramble and throw the ball.

Elway said he respects the Redskins' defense, but is prepared to handle anything Washington throws at him. "We feel confident as an offense," he said. "We wouldn't be where we're at if we didn't.

"There's no way we can lose this game," said Elway, who was not so much predicting a Broncos victory as he was talking about how psychologically damaging another loss in the Super Bowl would be. "I know how devastating it is to lose the Super Bowl and I don't want to feel that way again."

Elway said the shotgun formation, which has become a favorite of Coach Dan Reeves, will help him read the defense better and give him extra time to throw the ball.

"The shotgun," he said, "limits you a little bit, but there's no reason you can't run out of it."

As for defense, Jones said fans can expect a physical game from the Broncos. "We're more of a basic defense now," he said. "We're basically going head-on-head with people more. The coaches were really tired of hearing that the Broncos were a finesse defense. We want people to recognize that we do well by playing hard-nosed, head-on-head defense.

"We're every bit as big as they are," he said. "We're not worried about anybody driving us off the ball."

Despite a season plagued with injuries to the team's top players, Elway said, "We're as close to being at full strength as we ever were. We have weapons in offense at every position."

Wide receiver Vance Johnson, who was released from the hospital Monday after suffering complications from a leg injury sustained nearly two weeks ago, will find out Friday if he'll be ready to play.

Broncos trainer Steve Antonopulos said earlier this week that "If everything goes right, he'll be ready. The doctors are still optimistic. He's doing fine."

Johnson was feeling well enough Wednesday to do some horseback riding in the mountains with fellow wide receivers Nattiel and Mark Jackson, his companions in the group Denver fans call "The Three Amigos."

"I basically just sat {on the horse} and walked a little bit," said Johnson. The horse-riding scene will be included in a Three Amigos video, expected to be released some time after the Super Bowl.