Resilient Broncos weather one crisis after another

DWIs. Drugs. Injuries. Illnesses. Ambulances. Surgeries.

The Denver Broncos have seen it all in this drama-filled

season.

Yet, they’re 12-3 and one win from securing the top seed in the

AFC playoffs for the second straight year, fulfilling a mission

they set out to accomplish after their playoff pratfall against

Baltimore last January.

”We’ve had a lot of ups and downs,” wide receiver Eric Decker

said Thursday. ”We’ve been through a lot. We’ve had to weather the

storm week in and week out. It’s a testament to everybody if we can

finish out the season strong with a win this Sunday and go into the

playoffs with some momentum.”

The Broncos need 18 points against the Raiders (4-11) to become

the highest-scoring team in league history and 28 to become the

first 600-point team.

They’ve transcended their troubles despite an injury epidemic

that has claimed Rahim Moore, Kevin Vickerson, Champ Bailey, Wes

Welker, Ryan Clady, Derek Wolfe, Wesley Woodyard and Dominique

Rodgers-Cromartie for a combined 43 games, testing their depth and

fortitude.

The latest casualty is star linebacker Von Miller, who tore up

his right knee at Houston last weekend and will undergo surgery

within the week that will sideline him until summertime.

”I obviously feel bad about losing Von and feel bad for Von,

but this team has faced adversity all season and when some of your

top players are down … everybody else has to step up,” Peyton

Manning said. ”We’ve done that all year and we’ll have to continue

to have to do that again this week.”

The Broncos seem to have a new crisis every week.

After two team executives were suspended for drunken driving

arrests on the eve of training camp, Miller was slapped with a

six-game drug suspension to start the season. Clady signed a $52.5

million contract in July and went on IR in Week 2. Bailey’s missed

a career-high 11 games. Welker had two concussions in a four-week

span and hasn’t played since Dec. 8.

Coach John Fox needed open-heart surgery and during his

month-long absence, a backup offensive lineman quit the team, Moore

needed an emergency operation to save his left leg and Wolfe had a

seizure-like episode on the team bus.

Wolfe practiced on Christmas Day for the first time since Nov.

29 and promptly came down with the flu and was sent home sick

Thursday.

”You have to keep pushing forward regardless of what’s in front

of you because nobody is going to stop and wait for us to catch

up,” Bailey said. ”We have got to keep going, keep working.

Everybody has got to stay confident in what we’ve got on the field

and hopefully things will work out.

”You can’t take your eyes off the prize.”

The Broncos began the season in scramble mode because of

Miller’s drug suspension and they’ll finish the same way now that

he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament Sunday in Houston.

”He’s one of our better players. You’d love to have him. He’s

not available, so we’ll do what we always do here and that’s next

man up and keep rolling,” defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said.

”That’s what it is. He’s a great player. He’ll be back at some

point next year. And this year, we just need to carry on with who

we have.

”And the fact that we did go through it earlier in the year, we

have a little bit of an understanding of what it’s going to take.

And not just one guy can fill his role because he does a lot of

different things. It takes more than one guy and we understand that

and we’ll work at it accordingly.”

The 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year wasn’t the same dominant,

disruptive player when he returned from his banishment but he

flashed greatness at times and still commanded constant

double-teams.

The Broncos will continue to rely on Shaun Phillips, Robert

Ayers and recently signed Jeremy Mincey to rush the passer.

Phillips has 10 sacks so far, 1 1/2 shy of his career high, and

Ayers has a career-best 5 1/2 sacks.

In the base defense, they’ll rely once again on Nate Irving, who

had a spectacular game after Miller got hurt.

The Broncos didn’t have to look far to replace Miller on the

roster, promoting weakside linebacker Brandon Marshall from their

practice squad to play on special teams.

”Part of me thought they would try to bring in another

pass-rusher. But who’s out there in Week 17?” Marshall said. ”I’m

elated they thought enough of me to put me up while we’re making a

Super Bowl run.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on

Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton