Manning not the problem in Denver’s latest loss

Looking for someone to blame for Denver’s latest loss?

Look anywhere other than the locker belonging to No. 18, Peyton

Manning.

From a confused defense that couldn’t get off the field to a

butterfingered offense that couldn’t stay on it to a coaching staff

that got outmaneuvered at every turn, the Broncos dug themselves a

hole in a 31-21 loss to New England on Sunday. Manning made his

usual determined effort to get them out of it, but came up

short.

Denver fell to 2-3 and raised a critical question nearly a third

of the way into the season: Sure, the Broncos upgraded at

quarterback by acquiring Manning in the offseason, but did they

take care of the rest?

”There are a lot of what-ifs,” Manning said after the loss.

”The key is that we learn from them and hopefully we can respond

next week with the win.”

A look at Denver’s flaws, by the numbers:

-89: Working out of a rapidly moving no-huddle offense, the

Patriots ran 89 plays on offense – 23 more than Denver – often

snapping the ball before the Broncos defense even got aligned. The

Broncos allowed 444 yards and four scoring drives of 80 yards or

more. They were down 31-7 late in the third quarter.

”It goes back to what you learn in high school,” coach John

Fox said Monday. ”It’s alignment, assignment and responsibility.

It all starts with alignment. It’s important you get lined

up.”

-35: New England set a franchise record with 35 first downs,

which was only four short of the NFL record last reached in 1990.

The Patriots also held the ball for 35 minutes, 49 seconds.

-17: In the play that summed up the day for Denver, the Broncos

allowed New England’s Danny Woodhead to run for 18 yards on

third-and-17 to extend a touchdown drive that made it 24-7. The

play call came courtesy of former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, now

back on the New England sideline as Bill Belichick’s offensive

coordinator. It was one of 11 third downs the Patriots converted,

four of which were on third-and-10 or longer.

”Really, at the end of the day, our third down’s been a little

bit of a bugaboo throughout this portion of the season,” Fox said.

”What’s most disheartening about that is they weren’t all

third-and-1s.”

-12: Number of spots the Denver rushing defense fell in one week

after the Patriots ran for 251 yards on 54 carries, from ninth to

21st. It’s also the number of stops made by Denver’s co-leaders in

tackles. Those leaders were Michael Adams and Rahim Moore – a pair

of safeties, a telltale sign that the opponent’s running backs are

getting way too far downfield.

-7: Total number of fumbles lost this season by the Broncos,

after adding three to the tally on Sunday. Only Kansas City and

Philadelphia have lost more. Receiver Demaryius Thomas lost one for

the second straight week after a long catch from Manning. It

stopped Denver’s first drive after Thomas had reached the New

England 17. Running back Willis McGahee lost one in the fourth

quarter after the Broncos had cut a 24-point deficit to 10 and were

at the Patriots 11.

McGahee also dropped an easy catch on fourth-and-1 in the fourth

quarter. Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno hasn’t been on the

active roster on game day since losing a fumble in the second week.

Asked if players could lose playing time by dropping the ball too

much, Fox declined to ”get into real detail with that,

publicly.”

”But we’re in a production-based business, and I think everyone

understands that and that’s part of it,” Fox said. ”That’s not a

threat. It’s just how the game is. The buck stops here. I can

promise you, it will be addressed and we’ll get it better.”

-4: Yards to go on third down early in the third quarter when

the Broncos chose to hand off to backup running back Lance Ball,

who gained a yard. Denver punted and New England went 80 yards on

the next drive to make it 24-7. After the game, Fox said there was

”probably not great communication on the down and distance.”

Pressed on the subject Monday, Fox avoided explaining it, simply

calling it ”a third-down play that didn’t get enough yardage for a

first down.”

-4 (Part II): Number of turnovers the Broncos have created in

five games. That makes them minus-6 on the takeaway-giveaway

ledger, tied for 28th in the NFL.

”Something we say at the beginning of every season is, if you

catch all the ones you get your hands on, you’ll lead the league in

interceptions,” Fox said. ”We’ve not scratched the surface on

that one yet.”

-1: Despite all these problems, the Broncos are only one game

behind San Diego in the AFC West. The Chargers are next on the

schedule, next Monday in San Diego.

-0: Number of interceptions Manning has thrown since his

three-pick first quarter in the second week against Atlanta. He’s

thrown for 1,013 yards and eight touchdowns since then. His

quarterback ratings in the last three games have been 83.0, 130.0

and 116.2.

Fox didn’t field a single question Monday about Manning’s arm

strength or the state of the quarterback’s game. Instead, the

questions were about his turnover-prone offense, struggling defense

and a handful of coaching decisions.

”We’ll remain very focused and positive,” Fox promised,

”despite the noise on the outside.”

Notes: LB Keith Brooking suffered a concussion and his status

will be updated daily. … LB Von Miller had two sacks and five

more tackles behind the line of scrimmage. ”He’s one of our better

performers on defense,” Fox said. … DE Elvis Dumervil had half a

sack but only has three total on the season and has not been the

disruptive force resembling the player who led the league with 17

sacks in 2009. ”There’s a lot more to playing defensive football,

in particular, defensive line play, than just sacks,” Fox said.

”I don’t think that’s a problem.”

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and

http://twitter.com/AP-NFL