Denver Broncos  

 

With Peyton Manning struggling, Broncos' defense grinding

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CLEVELAND -- The Broncos aren't making any excuses for winning. They are 6-0 and most of the NFL -- with its high-flying offenses and fantasy-football winning quarterbacks -- isn't.

There is no disputing the notion that 39-year-old quarterback Peyton Manning is out of sorts. He's now up to 10 interceptions after throwing three Sunday against the Browns. One was a pick-six and all were intercepted by linebackers. All were bad passes, too.

But all came in victory.

After the game, some Broncos players said, quite openly, that the defense is having to win every week. We all know that, but for players to say it so freely doesn't quite conform to the "it's a team win," cliché to which we're accustomed.

The interesting thing is that these remarks weren't made in a way that would suggest defenders feel they are carrying the Broncos closer to an AFC West title and home-field advantage in the playoffs. This is a unified locker room.

If Denver were 2-4 -- like some teams that wish they had the Broncos' problems -- then maybe there could be division within the ranks and talk of making a move at quarterback.

However, Broncos defenders said they are making plays because they believe in what defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is preaching. They believe in the mission to be great. And they believe in Manning.

Before Sunday's game, I caught up with inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, and he shared this:

"I am going to be honest here," he started. "I've been around here, and I've seen Peyton work his tail off every day. He works, man. It's different for him being in a different scheme. He is used to running things all the time, and now coach [Gary] Kubiak runs his offense.

"They are trying to work things out. But we all know, that's Peyton Manning. He's going to the Hall of Fame. I'm rocking with him till I'm gone."

If Manning didn't work as hard as he does, or if he tried to behave as if he were bigger than others, then maybe he wouldn't have such admiration. Players also know that this is the first extended downturn of his career.

Every game, all season

But they're not in this for Manning's legacy. They are in this for their own.

Wins lead to playoff berths, and playoff victories lead to a shot at a championship. If Manning is nothing more than Brad Johnson or Trent Dilfer and the Broncos keep rolling, everybody's good.

To enhance the point, let's flip things over to Denver's Sunday opponent. Cleveland is now 2-4 because it found a way to lose to Denver. It also doesn't have the psyche or belief the Broncos do. Mind you, Browns quarterback Josh McCown has been rolling.

He entered Sunday's game with a club-record three straight games with 300-plus yards passing and a swagger that has made others take note. But as a team, here's what's missing, according to cornerback Tramon Williams, whose comments were made before the game.

"In Week 1, the feeling we had was we thought we were good, but we were second-guessing ourselves against the Jets," said Williams, who won a Super Bowl with the Packers and spent nine seasons there before joining Cleveland this season as a free agent. "We didn't quite believe. I could see we felt we weren't as good as we thought.

"The veterans talked with the guys and said that we have to believe we can win. From that point on, the vibe of the team has been good. We've been in games. Now it's just a matter of making that one play or two plays to put us over the top."

That didn't happen against the Broncos, whose defense took the field after Manning threw an overtime interception to Barkevious Mingo that put the Browns on the cusp of being in field-goal range. That unit snuffed out McCown, sacking him twice for negative yardage, and forced a punt that gave Denver -- and Manning -- the ball again.

This time, the Broncos would execute and win.

They made that play or two. They didn't second-guess, even though they had every right to.

Denver's players and coaches understand there is work to be done. They have a Week 7 bye before hosting unbeaten Green Bay in Week 8. That's when most of the NFL universe hopes to see the real Broncos unveiled.

The Broncos already have shown who and what they are for the most part, though. They are flawed and can get better. Players and coaches understand that, and nobody on the team believes they've peaked.

They also are undefeated, knowing if these are the problems that they have to concern themselves with, things are pretty OK.

Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89.

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