Resilient Broncos weather one crisis after another
DWIs. Drugs. Injuries. Illnesses. Ambulances. Surgeries.
The Denver Broncos have seen it all in this drama-filled
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
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
”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
”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
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.”
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