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With Bolts on deck, Broncos bumbling, but will they bust?

  • By Vic Carucci NFL.com
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A three-game losing streak says the Denver Broncos are in trouble.

So does the fact their starting quarterback, Kyle Orton, is injured.

So does the fact their defense, after giving up an average of 11 points per game during a 6-0 start, has since surrendered an average of 25 points over the last three weeks.

But despite all of the hard evidence to the contrary, the Broncos are not acting as if their season is spiraling out of control.

"There's no panic at all," center Casey Wiegmann said. "We're 6-3. It's not like we're one game from being eliminated from the playoffs or anything. We've just got to go out and win one game and go from there."

Denis Poroy / Associated Press
The Broncos are a much different team since Eddie Royal ran wild in a Week 6 victory over the Chargers.
Broncos' reversal of fortunes
  First 6 weeks Last 3 weeks
Record 6-0 0-3
Points per game 22.2 11.3
Yards per game 368.7 249.0
PPG allowed 11.0 25.0
YPG allowed 279.2 351.7

That "one game," of course, isn't just any game. It's against the San Diego Chargers, who after a 2-3 start, have won four games in a row to tie the Broncos for first place in the AFC West.

It's a little too early to say the Broncos' season is on the line when they face the Chargers at INVESCO Field at Mile High. A 6-4 record wouldn't take them out of playoff contention. However, a four-game losing streak would be an enormous burden for a team that only last season became the first in NFL history to squander a three-game lead with three games to play after a 0-3 finish allowed the Chargers to rally to win the AFC West.

By the same token, a victory Sunday would give the Broncos a sweep of San Diego and a one-game lead, plus the tie-breaker, entering the stretch run.

"People think we're going to be down, but we will be ready to play," linebacker Andra Davis said. "I'm very confident, very confident. I know the caliber of guys we have in that locker room. We have too much pride to continue to put up showings like we have the last few weeks, and we're going to go out there and play the ball that we're supposed to play."

Said Wiegmann, "(The 6-0 start) wasn't a joke. The teams that we beat were all good teams -- Cincinnati, Dallas, San Diego, New England. We have to know that we can still play with all these people and beat them."

The Broncos were rolling along as one of the best stories of the season's first half when they reached their Week 7 bye. A turbulent offseason that included the blockbuster trade that sent popular quarterback Jay Cutler to the Chicago Bears and had raised questions about whether new coach Josh McDaniels was in over his head was steadily fading into a distant memory after the Broncos beat the Chargers, 34-23, to go to 6-0.

Eight days earlier, Denver knocked off New England, 20-17, in overtime. McDaniels, the Patriots' former offensive coordinator, gained further credibility by getting the better of his mentor, Bill Belichick.

Yet, after losses to Baltimore (30-7), Pittsburgh (28-10), and lowly Washington (27-17), talk of McDaniels being a shoo-in for coach-of-the-year honors has quieted considerably. All of a sudden, the Broncos aren't looking nearly as wise for firing Mike Shanahan, who led them to back-to-back Super Bowl wins in the 1990s, or for switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. All of a sudden, McDaniels and new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan don't appear to have all of the answers.

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However, players insist there is far more calm than chaos at the Dove Valley practice facility this week as everyone searches for solutions. The Broncos' defense had what Davis described as a "heartfelt" meeting the day after the Washington game. Normally, Denver's defensive players gather in position groups to watch videotape of the game they just played. But the morning after the Redskins' loss, they watched as a unit.

The idea was to emphasize the point that the players in the room were accountable to each other for their mistakes.

"We made a lot of mistakes in that Washington game, and they were magnified in front of every guy on that defense," Davis said. "It wasn't us. When we do it the right way, we've seen the results. We've also seen the results when we do it the wrong way. And the last three weeks, we've definitely been doing it the wrong way.

"Last week, against Washington, I kind of think we played down to their level. Out of the three losses, I think that was the toughest one to swallow because that was one that we know we should have won. ... Baltimore and Pittsburgh schemed us pretty good; they had a nice, little plan for us. But Washington, there's no way they should have been on the field with us."

The biggest problem with the Broncos' defense in recent games, according to Davis, is that it has gotten away from the highly disciplined approach it showed through the first six weeks. Too many players have become interested in being recognized for individually making plays rather than sticking to their responsibilities within the scheme.

Davis promises change against the Chargers.

"We're just going out there and depending on the guy next to you, making sure everybody just does their job and no one tries to do too much," he said. "Because when you're winning, it's kind of easy to try to do more, to try to want your name to be called. But as long as we're out there playing together, as one unit, and we're winning, everybody gets credit instead of losing and one person has a big game and that guy gets noticed."

For the Broncos, fixing their defensive woes could prove easier than dealing with the injury that Orton suffered to his left ankle against the Redskins. Orton hopes to play against the Chargers, but that remains to be seen. His backup, Chris Simms, made little impact after Orton left Sunday's game. But with a chance to practice with the starting offense for most, if not all, of this week, Simms figures to have a better showing if he has to start.

The rest of the offense doesn't seem too concerned about the possibility of having a new quarterback.

"Chris knows the offense and we expect him to come in there and do the same job Kyle's been doing," Wiegmann said. "I don't think it's going to affect us one bit."

Nor is the weight of a three-game losing streak.

"We're still sitting in a good spot," Wiegmann said. "We've just got to take care of our own business. We've got seven weeks left, so there's a lot that still can happen."

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