AFC West: 2013 Week 14 TEN at DEN

DENVER -- Sometimes even Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will drop his guard a bit and let an honest-to-the-bone opinion fly.

And while he played it straight earlier this week when repeatedly asked if he was a different player in cold-weather games, Manning was, shall we say, slightly more expansive in a postgame interview for the Broncos’ flagship station KOA 850-AM.

Manning finished the Broncos' 51-28 victory with 397 yards passing and four touchdowns. Moments after the game was over, in response to a question about those who question his cold-weather play, Manning said:

“Whoever wrote that narrative can shove it where the sun don’t shine.’’

Earlier in the week Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase had raised his hackles as well when asked if Manning has gotten a bad rap for his cold-weather play.

“I’ve only been around him two years, but the thing that pisses me off more than anything is I don’t want anybody else as my quarterback,’’ Gase said Thursday. “I’m going to go in with him every Sunday. It’s a great feeling to have when you’ve got him back there, you know your chances of winning are pretty good. When you don’t have a guy like that, and I’ve been in that spot a lot, and that [expletive]. So I’ll take [Manning] any day of the week.’’

Broncos give cold shoulder to Titans

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
10:25
PM ET
videoDENVER -- When the mercury can crawl only to 18 degrees at kickoff, everything is cold -- frozen hard like stone -- including the facts.

And on a frigid, largely windless day, the fact is some folks just may have to rethink the whole Peyton-Manning-in-the-cold thing, at least a little bit. The fact is the Denver Broncos lead the league in scoring with 515 points, Sunday's 51-28 victory against the Tennessee Titans was the Broncos’ third 50-point effort of the season and they have already set a single-season scoring record for the franchise with three games remaining.

The fact is the Broncos still have the inside track for a division title and the coveted No. 1 seed in the AFC. The fact is their defense still needs some attention. The fact is injuries that have eroded the defense have taken a bite out of the special teams units as well.

And the bottom-line fact to all of that -- 11-2 is still 11-2.

"It’s winning. I don’t care if you win by five or 50 to be honest with you," Broncos coach John Fox said. "This game is only fun if you win and it doesn’t matter if you’re playing it, coaching it, or probably being a fan of it."

So when it’s right-down-to-the-bone cold, as it had been all week in Denver, including Sunday, the fun of winning comes when you line up, mano a mano and ... throw it 59 times. Manning finished with a franchise record 39 completions on a record-tying 59 attempts for 397 yards and four touchdowns.

And after days’ worth of debate over his below-freezing worthiness and with little or no wind to impede him, Manning was not sacked, did not throw an interception and pushed his season touchdown total to 45 with three games to play. The league’s single-season record of 50, set by Tom Brady in 2007, is now within his expansive reach.

Asked following the game if he felt like he had sent a message against the Titans, Manning said: "I wasn’t trying to answer it because I didn’t give it any validation in the first place. We had a good plan and I thought we threw the ball well and guys caught the ball well."

"I’m sure he’s tired of hearing it," Broncos tight end Julius Thomas said of all of the cold-weather talk. "He’s been playing great all season, he’s been playing great his entire career and just to hear people nit-picking about something like the cold, for him to be able to come out there and put 50 on the board and put that whole cold thing to bed, I’m sure he’ll be happy to see that behind him tomorrow."

But more importantly for the Broncos, their offense was again the trump card. Because for all the Broncos have done this season, they don’t always come out of the blocks with their best and Sunday was the fourth time they have trailed by at least 11 points and eventually won. They trailed 14-0 in Dallas, but won 51-48; trailed the Redskins 21-7, but won 45-21 with a 31-point fourth quarter; trailed 21-7 to the Chiefs in Arrowhead last weekend, but won 35-28; and trailed the Titans 21-10 Sunday before finally getting the pedal to the floor.

"We know what we have the capability and potential to do," Julius Thomas said. "All year we’ve been proving if we get things going we can be explosive and put points up on that scoreboard."

So, depending on which side of the half-full glass discourse you come down on it means the Broncos fast-lane work on offense can iron out their wrinkles or the reasons for those slow starts, especially those last two, are cause for at least a raised eyebrow if not some outright concern. A week ago in Kansas City it was two interceptions by Manning, a defense that couldn’t turn the Chiefs away following the mistakes and a 108-yard kickoff return by Kansas City’s Knile Davis that powered the Chiefs early.

Sunday it was two long drives by the Titans -- a five-play, 73-yard affair to go with an eight-play, 89-yard effort -- to go with a 95-yard kickoff return that led to a one-play scoring drive that had the Titans in front. An injury-riddled defense was also turned over a bit by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who kept starters such as Wesley Woodyard and safety Duke Ihenacho on the sideline for much of the day.

Fox said following the game Woodyard was "rested a bit" because of a neck injury he suffered earlier this season, but both Woodyard and Ihenacho were used on special teams plenty as they watched Paris Lenon and Omar Bolden, respectively, play in their spots on defense. And while the final numbers won’t raise too many red flags overall -- 254 total yards for the Titans, 152 of those in the first half -- the starts are an issue as was the 24-point lead that got away against the Patriots.

"We took a look at some other guys a little bit [Sunday] to develop that throughout the rest of the season," Fox said. "We’re not satisfied at this point, there’s room for improvement and I’m not ashamed to say it."

The roster juggling on that side of the depth chart has leaked into the Broncos’ special teams units, which opened the season with two blocked punts and two touchdown returns by Trindon Holliday, who didn’t play Sunday because of a shoulder injury, in the season’s first month. Leon Washington’s 95-yard return in the first quarter put the Titans on the 3-yard line in the first quarter. The Broncos also had a 104-yard touchdown return by Andre Caldwell called back because of a penalty on rookie Kayvon Webster. It’s all part of the can-they-win-it-all tapestry wrapped around the Broncos these days.

"There's no exhaling," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. "Just keep pushing and pushing each week."

"And we’re 11-2," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "We know there are things we need to do better, and we will. But we’re 11-2, and that’s just a fact."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
7:25
PM ET

DENVER -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 51-28 win over the Tennessee Titans:

What it means: With the win, the Broncos, in largely throw-first mode for much of the day despite a kickoff temperature of 18 degrees, kept their hold on the top spot in both AFC West as well as the race for home-field advantage in the AFC. The Broncos are 11-2, with the New England Patriots (10-3) and Kansas City Chiefs (10-3) right behind in the AFC. The Broncos have swept the Chiefs already this season.

Stock watch: It always seems to come down to a kicker at some point in the postseason for any Super Bowl hopeful, and the Broncos continue to feel good about the range and accuracy of Matt Prater, even in a season when the Broncos have scored so many touchdowns. His NFL-record 64-yard field goal on the last play of the first half was his 20th made field goal of at least 50 yards in his career with the Broncos.

Mix it up: With injuries starting to impact the depth chart on defense, the Broncos continue to search for answers on that side of the ball. They used a variety of personnel groupings that didn't include two of their starters much of the time. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard and safety Duke Ihenacho were replaced by Paris Lenon and Omar Bolden, respectively, much of the time in the base 4-3 defense. Woodyard and Ihenacho were not injured and played regularly on special teams. The Broncos also used Quentin Jammer at cornerback in the base defense in place of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Both sides of the coin: The Broncos keep hoping linebacker Von Miller can consistently be the kind of impact player he was last season. Miller took a terrible roughing-the-passer penalty in the second quarter, a clear helmet-to-helmet hit on Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick that likely will cost Miller some money. But he also tipped a pass in the third quarter that resulted in an interception and forced a Chris Johnson fumble in the fourth quarter that safety Mike Adams recovered. He added a sack.

What's next: A battered and bruised team gets a short week late in the season. The Broncos host the San Diego Chargers on Thursday, a game Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker is unlikely to play in after leaving Sunday's game with a concussion.

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