Still in good position to claim home-field advantage throughout
the playoffs, the Denver Broncos are poised to move on from last
week’s humbling defeat.
The visiting Broncos can possibly clinch a division title and
the No. 1 seed in the conference when they try to extend the
Houston Texans’ team-worst losing streak Sunday.
Denver (11-3) entered last Thursday’s home game with San Diego
averaging league highs of 39.6 points and 465.6 yards, but was held
to a season-low 295 while scoring its fewest points of 2013 in a
27-20 loss. Fortunately for the playoff-bound Broncos, New England
couldn’t overtake them for the top spot in the AFC as it lost to
Miami on Sunday.
Tied with Kansas City atop the West Division, Denver owns the
tiebreaker after sweeping that season series and can clinch the
division with a victory and a Chiefs loss to Indianapolis. The
Broncos can secure the No. 1 seed for the second straight season
with a win, plus a Kansas City loss and a New England defeat or tie
“I think it’s a little brighter because we know what we’ve got
to do to get home-field advantage: we’ve just got to keep winning,”
said receiver Andre Caldwell, who scored both Denver touchdowns
against the Chargers.
“Even though we lost, we’re still in the same position that we
were in before that game. We’ve just got to handle our business and
everything will fall in place.”
The Broncos would appear to be in good position going forward
against Houston (2-12) and Oakland, which is 4-10.
“Of course it feels better to control your own destiny,”
defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “But you don’t want any
(more) scares like that. We want teams to come through Denver. The
good thing is we’re in control of that again and we’ve got to
handle our business.”
The Broncos’ top priority will be improving a defense that ranks
23rd with 371.5 yards allowed per contest. Denver yielded its first
100-yard rusher of the season when Ryan Mathews gained 127 last
The Chargers earned 103 of their 177 rushing yards on first
down, went 6 of 12 on third and kept the ball for 38:49 – the
longest by a Denver opponent this season.
“If you don’t get off on third down, teams can run the ball on
you,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard told the Broncos’ official
website. “That’s something that we have to continue to get better
at. We can’t let a team control the clock on us like that.”
In an attempt to solidify a defensive front that’s lost tackles
Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson to health issues, Denver signed end
Jeremy Mincey after he was released by Jacksonville.
The Broncos were held to a season-low 18 rushing yards last week
after averaging 188.7 in the previous three games. Without Wes
Welker (concussion) and his team-high 18 third-down receptions, the
Broncos converted two of nine third downs. Eric Decker had two
catches for 42 yards after he totaled 16 for 291 and five TDs in
the previous two.
Denver, though, appears to have a good shot to bounce back in a
big way this week. Three shy of Tom Brady’s single-season NFL
record of 50 TD passes, Manning is 16-3 against the Texans. He
threw for 330 yards and two touchdowns versus Houston last Sept.
23, though the Broncos lost 31-25 at home.
“He’s having a tremendous year, one of the greatest years ever,”
interim coach Wade Phillips said. ”It’s going to be a big
challenge for us. We’re going to have to step up our defensive
play, especially our pass defense.”
Mired in a 12-game skid that is the league’s longest
single-season slide since the Colts started 0-13 in 2011, Houston
ranks fourth in the NFL with 304.2 yards allowed per game but 25th
with 26.8 points given up. The Texans allowed 20 first-half points
last Sunday in a 25-3 road loss to Indianapolis, a team that scored
24 combined in the first two quarters of its previous six
Quarterback Case Keenum won’t play due to a sprained right
thumb, with Matt Schaub getting the nod for an offense that’s been
held without TD four times this season. The last time the
beleaguered veteran played, taking over late in a game against
Oakland on Nov. 17 when Keenum was struggling, the home crowd booed
Schaub so loudly when he entered the game that the offense was
forced to use a silent count.
”I’m not worried about that because I know a majority of our
fans are with us no matter what and they’ve stuck through no matter
what,” Phillips said. ”We appreciate them. This is our last home
game, so we need a lot of support and I think we’ll get it.”
Running back Ben Tate was placed on injured reserve after
re-injuring one of the four broken ribs he sustained in Week 8.
Dennis Johnson will start in his place.
Houston star receiver Andre Johnson needs one catch for a second
straight 100-reception season and fifth in his stellar 11-year
career. He had two catches for 72 yards – 60 coming on a TD catch –
against the Broncos in 2012.