Broncos' loss opens door in AFC playoff race
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP)
John Fox doesn't see a defense that's diving or a sky that's falling.
A day after the Broncos lost their aura of indestructibility and handed New England a golden chance to steer the road to the Super Bowl away from the Rocky Mountains, Denver's coach said the stunning 27-20 loss to San Diego doesn't substantially change the challenge facing his team.
''You can go back and do research; I think there has been a lot of successful teams that have had losses late in the season,'' Fox said Friday. ''Where we'll fit on that totem pole, I have no idea yet. We obviously have work to do to improve. I know that. I agree that every loss is a wakeup call.''
Last year's Super Bowl champion, the Baltimore Ravens, in fact, went 1-4 in December.
''They got hot at the right time,'' safety David Bruton said. ''You just get hot at the right time. Yeah, it stinks that we lost the game, but we're definitely just trying to move forward and learn from it. We just finished watching film and just move on to the next one. You learn from adversity. You learn from your mistakes.
''You want to be hot in December, but we lost early in December and we can learn from that and push forward and become hot at the end of December and throughout January and February.''
That would mean a trip to the Super Bowl, which the Broncos are still talking about despite their latest misstep that might have cost them the smoothest path to the title game.
The Broncos (11-3) have dealt with deficiencies on defense all season, but they've all been camouflaged by a high-powered offense led by Peyton Manning, the prohibitive favorite to win his fifth MVP award.
This time, Manning had an off night, failing to guide the Broncos to a single first down in the second quarter as the Chargers (7-7) overcame an early 10-3 deficit to take control.
''We had those three three-and-outs in a row and ... it was damaging enough to cost us the lead,'' Manning said after the game. ''And we were never able to recover from that.''
The Chargers played keep-away from Manning, controlling the clock with drives that ate up yards and time. Ryan Matthews (127 yards on 29 carries) became the first running back to top 100 yards on Denver all season, and the Chargers gained 103 yards on first down.
Asked if that was a direct result of the absences of Kevin Vickerson (hip, out for the year) and Derek Wolfe (illness, out indefinitely), Fox demurred.
''No, I really think defensively ... this has been the same all season,'' Fox said. ''I think the difference is instead of scoring 30, 40, 50, we scored 20.
''It's something that we're working on. It's something that we have to get better at. I don't think it's acceptable for anybody, including those guys in that room. I think they understand that and we have to get better to get where we want to go,'' Fox added. ''Having said that, I think we lost our third game, not our 13th. We don't think the sky is falling.''
The Broncos entered the game averaging an eye-popping 39.8 points but managed just two TD throws from Manning, both to Bubba Caldwell - Manning's 46th and 47th of the season, three shy of Tom Brady's NFL record - and two field goals by Matt Prater.
Without Wes Welker (concussion), the Broncos were 2 for 9 on third down, however.
''Look, you have a player of that caliber, I mean, you're not happy that he's not available,'' Fox said. ''But nobody comes to rescue you. They still have the game scheduled and you have to go play the game. Everybody in this league does that.''
Fox said Welker still hasn't been cleared. He'll have to pass baseline cognitive tests early next week if he's to play Dec. 22 at Houston.
The Broncos don't expect to have rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster available against the Texans after he underwent surgery Friday on his right thumb, which he broke early in the third quarter.
The Broncos expect he'll be able to play with a cast after that, much like Von Miller did his rookie season. It's probably tougher for a cornerback to play with a cumbersome cast than for a linebacker, however.
''I'd say life in general is probably tougher in a cast,'' Fox said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton