Denver's surprising loss to San Diego took the Broncos out of the driver's seat for the AFC’s No. 1 seed. More worrisome, however, was how poorly Peyton Manning and company played at a time when they should be hitting their stride

Seventeen days left in the regular season, and my Seattle-New England Super Bowl pick is looking good, with both controlling conference home field through the playoffs in the wake of San Diego’s 27-20 win at Denver on Thursday night. But the story of the day is Denver. Specifically, the holes in Denver’s game as the Broncos drive to the playoffs.

The five things about Denver that should worry Bronco fans this morning:

1. The inability of Peyton Manning to challenge San Diego downfield all night

Maybe he was in “take what they give us’’ mode. Maybe he never felt comfortable with the pesky and variable Charger rush keeping him off-balance all night. Maybe it’s the wear of a long season on his 37-year-old right arm. Whatever, Manning’s longest completion was 22 yards, and he had but three incompletions longer than 20 yards out of 41 throws. To see him dink-and-dunk in the final two minutes with no timeouts on the clock and needing two scores was the height of frustration. You don’t want to throw into the teeth of umbrella coverage downfield, but you also can’t be taking eight yards consistently without being able to stop the clock. Where was Demaryius Thomas (four catches, 49 yards)? The passing game Thursday night was disturbing. I don’t think it’ll continue, but one bad game could have blown home-field through the playoffs, and could mean Peyton Manning, to get to the Super Bowl, could have to play Tom Brady in New England, where Brady is 7-2 all-time vs. Manning.

2. No Welker

Andre Caldwell (who’d played 32 snaps in the previous three games) stepped in to catch six balls for 59 yards and two touchdowns. Good sub. But what was missing was Wes Welker (out with a concussion)  sitting down in the familiar holes with the laser throws he and Manning have perfected. In less than a season, Welker has proven how valuable he is. We all saw it Thursday night. No word if he’ll be back for the very winnable final two games (at Houston, at Oakland), but if Denver doesn’t sweep those two games, the Broncos risk getting passed in the West by 10-3 Kansas City and having to play a Wild Card game instead of getting the bye a vet like Welker will need.

3. Knowshon the No-show

San Diego has been generous against the run this year despite some stout players (Corey Liuget’s legit), but the Broncos were feeble running it, particularly on first down: seven carries, 11 yards. That includes a minus-six for Montee Ball. Starter Knowshon Moreno had eight carries for 19 yards. What killed Manning all night was knowing if he was going to get anything done, he’d have to do it himself. And he couldn’t.

Kent Nishimura/Getty Images
Ryan Mathews (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

4. A sieve of a run defense

San Diego is not the best running team in the league. Not close. But the Chargers ran 44 times for 177 yards, and held the ball for 39 minutes. Did you see the spectators in orange jerseys on Ryan Mathews’ 23-yard touchdown sprint down the left sideline? Luckily for the Broncos, Jamaal Charles is the only franchise back playing well who is set to be in the AFC playoffs.

5. No shutdown corners in sight

Denver can’t count on Champ Bailey to play much of any valuable role in the playoffs (he’s been day-to-day all season with a foot injury), and rookie backup Kayvon Webster was burned three times that I saw, twice by rookie San Diego wideout Keenan Allen (who, by the way, is the leader in the clubhouse for Offensive Rookie of the Year in my book). And Webster is due to have surgery on a thumb he injured Thursday night; he’ll miss at least next week’s game in Houston. Denver will have to win scoring contests to advance in the playoffs. Until Thursday night, when the front seven contributed just two sacks and two pressures, that worried nobody in Denver.

No need to panic, Bronconians. The first home playoff game, should Denver win out against two bad teams, will be four weeks from Saturday or Sunday, in the divisional playoff round. But in Houston and Oakland, it would be nice to see Manning challenge some safeties downfield, and nice to see Welker back, and nice to see the defense stop somebody. Thursday proved one thing for the Broncos’ immediate future: It’s no lock they can win a scoring contest every game. And when they struggle on offense, they can be an ugly team.

* * *

Player You Need To Know This Weekend

Kirk Cousins, quarterback, Washington (No. 12). When Cousins, Washington’s fourth-round pick in 2012, got a chance to play last season, he was impressive: 69 percent passer, four touchdowns, three picks, 101.6 rating. Now he’ll have the last three games of a disastrous season for the team to prove his worth. It’s no secret to anyone in Washington (or New Zealand, for that matter) that Washington, missing its first-round pick in 2014 as the last vestige of the Robert Griffin III trade, wants to develop a trade market for Cousins. GM Bruce Allen would love to recoup a low-first-round pick for him, because Griffin, even with his struggles this year, is unquestionably Washington’s quarterback of the future. So Cousins gets to face the Falcons, Cowboys and Giants to end the season, with Griffin sitting. It’s a good time to go in: Atlanta and Dallas, combined, have allowed 66-percent passing, with 52 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.

Sound Bite of the Week

“I’m sure everybody knows by now that coach decided to shut me down for the rest of the season. I talked to coach, he talked to me about it. I expressed my desire to play. He explained to me his reasoning. At the end of the day, coach’s decision is what we go with.”

—Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III, on being made the team’s third-string quarterback this week—and likely for the last two weeks of the season as well—by coach Mike Shanahan.

Ten Things I’ll Be Watching For This Weekend

Dysfunction In D.C.

What in the world is happening in Washington? Andrew Brandt tries to make some sense of Mike Shanahan's decision to bench Robert Griffin III and what it means for the future of the franchise. FULL STORY

1. The latest on Shanahan. Did he clean out his car this week? His garage? You’ll hear some news on Mike Shanahan’s benching of RG3, certainly, but let’s keep these things in mind after analyst after analyst has talked about how damaging a blow this is for a 22-year-old player: Griffin will have a new coach next year, and he’ll get to show the world that either this was a fluky year and he never felt right the whole season and he got messed up by the Shanahans … or maybe he isn’t the savior he was supposed to be. I do find it interesting that, according to Mike Shanahan, the owner and GM were on board with the move to yank Griffin. The season needs to end, and Griffin needs to take three weeks far, far away, and when he comes back there needs to be a new coach (Jon Gruden? Art Briles?) who coaches him hard and builds back his confidence. If he’s scarred for life at 22, then he was over-drafted to begin with.

2. Test for Trestman. Josh McCown’s passer rating is 21 points higher than Jay Cutler’s, and his TD-to-Interception differential is plus-12, compared to Cutler’s plus-five. But Cutler, after four weeks off with a high ankle sprain, got his job back Thursday from Trestman and acted like it was no big deal. (Has anything ever seemed a big deal to Cutler?) But Cutler goes to Cleveland needing to play well for the Bears to keep pace with Detroit. They’re tied atop the NFC North at 7-6. Will Trestman waver if Cutler stinks and loses? I would if I were him.

3. The zebras to rebound. Good start for Bill Vinovich’s crew Thursday night in Denver; no gaffes. The NFL needs a newsless Sunday from the men who have had a very bad couple weeks.

4. AFC home-field. New England can win out and win it, now that Denver has a third loss. But for New England to cop the top seed, a tough sweep might be necessary (at Miami, at Baltimore, vs. Buffalo).

5. Road sweet road. Saints are 1-3 in their last three roadies, and now take off for St. Louis and Charlotte in back-to-back weeks.

6. Someone’s going to get hurt. Ravens (7-6) at Lions (7-6). Bring the smelling salts.

7. Some boring playoff races. Three games left. Only one division tie at the top (Detroit and Chicago, NFC North). The biggest drama might be whether a 7-7 team (San Diego) or a pair of 7-6ers (Miami and Baltimore) end up winning the AFC’s sixth seed.

8. Son of Gronk. Zaniest stat line from last weekend was Pats running back Shane Vereen’s against Cleveland: 12 catches, 153 yards; three carries, nine yards. Vereen and Josh Boyce will be the combo platter to replace Gronkowski starting Sunday in Miami.

9. This is groovy: All three Florida teams play at home at 1 p.m. Sunday. Second time in the past month it’s happened. Miami, Jacksonville and Tampa Bay started the season a combined 4-20. They’re 11-4 since. Roll this one around in your head: Jacksonville’s got a very good chance to finish second in the AFC South. Tough go this weekend, though … Pats at Dolphins, Niners at Bucs, and, in the latest installment of “Gus Bradley Vies for Coach of the Year,” the Jags host Buffalo.

10. Dirty dozen for Houston. The drive for Teddy Bridgewater continues in Indy. A 12th straight loss (I still cannot believe the 2013 Houston Texans have lost 11 straight) would keep at least a one-game lead in the race for the first pick in the draft.

mmqb-end-slug-square

134 comments
evetsyarsh
evetsyarsh

Trainer has backers in suit against Mannings

By Mel Antonen, USA TODAY In a book he authored with his father in 2000, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning wrote: "If nothing else in life, I want to be true to the things I believe in, and quite simply, to what I'm all about. I know I'd better, because it seems whenever I take a false step or two I feel the consequences. Like with the 'mooning' incident that made such a stir in Knoxville before my junior year" at the University of Tennessee.

According to a judge in Florida, Manning's next few paragraphs of Manning: A Father, His Sons, and a Football Legacy may literally constitute a false step. And while the legal consequences may end up being for a jury to decide, the public relations consequences may be felt quickly by Manning and his alma mater.

Manning and his father, as well as their ghost author, John Underwood, and publisher, HarperCollins, were sued for defamation in May 2002 by Jamie Ann Naughright, a former Tennessee assistant trainer. She claims that Manning's characterization of her in the book as having a "vulgar mouth" is false and cost her a subsequent job. In pursuing that claim, she has challenged Manning's version of what he called "the 'mooning' incident," alleging a more offensive act occurred. She also has raised questions about the conduct of Tennessee's associate head trainer at the time, who has said he was the first to term the incident a "mooning."

Court documents raise questions about Manning's veracity. In denying Manning's request for dismissal, Polk County Circuit Judge Harvey A. Kornstein wrote, in part: "Even if the plaintiff is a public figure, the evidence of record contains sufficient evidence to satisfy the court that a genuine issue of material fact exists that would allow a jury to find, by clear and convincing evidence, the existence of actual malice of the part of the defendants. ...

University of Tenn. Naughright

"Specifically, there is evidence of record, substantial enough to suggest that the defendants knew that the passages in question were false, or acted in reckless disregard of their falsity. There is evidence of record to suggest that there were obvious reasons to doubt the veracity of Peyton Manning's account of the incident in question. The court further finds that there is sufficient evidence to permit the conclusion that the defendants entertained serious doubts as to the truth of the passages in this case."

The defendants' New York-based lawyer, Slade Metcalf, declined to comment on the ruling or whether they will appeal. Naughright's lawyer, Robert Puterbaugh of Lakeland, Fla., also declined to comment.


JayHammers
JayHammers

a New England Seattle Super Bowl would be the worst!

RS1022
RS1022

As a Bronco fan I'm not worried about Denver's offense as every team has at least one mulligan per season. I am worried about their defense and special teams.

The one strategy against any team with a good offense is to run the ball and play keep away. Up until last week the only thing Denver's defense has been good against was stopping the run. If they don't shore up at least their run defense to where it was earlier in the season, Manning will have to score TDs on every drive if Denver is to succeed in the playoffs.

Special teams mistakes have played a significant role in every Bronco loss ( INDY: Holiday fumble led to TD;NE: Holdiay fumble led to DRC injury, Welker/Carter muff led to winning FG; SD: Offsides on point killed field momentum, poor return/fair catch decision by Holiday kept Denver in awful field position when they did have the ball). Lately, it seems seems that Trindon Holiday is more likely to fumble or make a poor return/fair catch decision than make a dynamic play. Denver doesn't need their special teams to make big plays, they just need the unit to not commit turnovers, stupid penalties, or allow big returns returns.

Both of the a legitimate AFC contenders (DEN & NE) are significantly flawed....

TigerFrankBurris
TigerFrankBurris

New England is garbage, upset of the week will be Miami over New England (it really shouldn't be though).

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

About only team that HASN'T shown serious flaw is Seattle, who, even in loss look stout, and surprising, given big investment / gamble on Harvin has been "bust" so far '13.  If PH ever gets healthy, watch out.  Wilson, his maturity (ability to adjust) might be their biggest (?).


As for Denver's TNF let-down (and SD's blinder), relax.  They'll right their ship (while Bolts revert), a little less fluid with bosun's mate Welker out (concsn), but everybody's doing it.  Welcome to Topsy-Turvy NFL13, Peter.  Think too hard about some of these ups & downs and we're likely to run aground.

seamillguesthouse
seamillguesthouse

The poor play of the Broncos was caused by the good play of the Chargers..

Peyton Manning is not God ,Peter.

KCexpat
KCexpat

Chiefs and Niners in the SB

raider0072
raider0072

everyone should be concerned, I hate them, but Boris Badenov Bellechik always friggin pigs out the vic somehow, it does help to have Natasha (Brady) as QB.  I still think The Donkeys will get HF back like this Sunday if Boris gets beat at Miami. 

bay2sierra
bay2sierra

The Broncos should be concerned, given Peyton Manning's past history of under-performing and under-achieving in Decembers and Januaries. 

canadianox
canadianox

I think little Russell may have some trouble in the playoffs 

JsinHernandez
JsinHernandez

I am sure that was a game with key injuries for US and the D TOWN BRONCS WILL BE IN FULL EFFECT FOR THE PLAYOFFS! LET'S GO BRONCOS!

Rexal Parshapswich
Rexal Parshapswich

The Pats will lose this week guaranteed and everything will go back. We all know King who grew up in Enfield, CT is a Pats homer. It was a short week. If anything most of the top AFC teams are showing cracks. The Pats should've lost to Cleveland. The Chiefs have been exposed.

George
George

Donks defense exPOSED!!  Can't stop SQUAT!!!   Turns out the donks are FRAUDS, just like kc and the Seattle sea-hens.  All 3 have been exPOSED!!


Niners vs Pats MetLife Feb 2, 2014.  Take it to the bank.

:D


goob926
goob926

How do you go 1-3 in your last three games?

Jon8
Jon8

3. Knowshon the No-show


The guy who writes this column (I refuse to use his name as I find it offensive), does not understand that the running game does not begin and end with the running back! San Diego whipped Denver on the line and shut-down the running game!


As I said a week ago, during the coronation of Manning as MVP, at this point in the season, Nick Foles is the MVP and I am not an Eagles fan!

ErnestineGarcia
ErnestineGarcia

It was bad Thursday nite it was for all us Bronco Fan's but there's still hope we can turn this Defense around where still 11-3 on top there's no problem in are offence it's are back field I don't know what happend with Del Rio Foxy for that matter but we need a huge turn around I got faith in are Broncos but they need to want it they talk about it but they need to want it bring that RING HOME

RescuedfromESPN
RescuedfromESPN

The problem at hand for Denver is that the Pats have proven that Gronk is not necessary to win games. Without him, or Vereen for that matter, they were 5-1, and had a victory over the Saints. Now assuming both teams make it that far the AFC title game will probably be in foxboro, and my money would be on the pats given Peyton manning's record against the pats in foxboro.

Dumptruck
Dumptruck

None of this matters. Patriots, Bengals, and Broncos (oh, my) will get gutted by the Seahawks in NY next year...

Phroggo
Phroggo

Peter King's opinion is that Griffin, even with his struggles this year, is unquestionably the Redskins QB of the future.  I've heard a few other "experts" say the same thing and I guess I'm missing something.


I haven't seen all their games, but I've seen enough that Griffin's play this year should put a big question mark on whether or not he's their QB of the future.


dholiday232
dholiday232

Poor Peyton, just like in Indy, defenseless defense.

sneede
sneede

Even for a guy who appreciates the talent of Peyton Manning, I've haven't felt convinced that these Broncos were a lock for the SB. When they are good, they are very good, but it seems like opponents figure out how to best defend Manning in the post-season.

On the other hand, in the highly predictable world of media speculation, the Denver loss seems to have guaranteed that Brady will win out. Good grief. NE on the road to Miami and Baltimore? Those games don't appear ripe for the Pats to lay an egg? C'mon. This league is ridiculously unpredictable. Would it really surprise anybody who's paying attention if NE dropped both those games?


Its kind of immaterial anyway, as the entire AFC is playing for the opportunity to get thrashed by whoever comes out of the NFC.

DavidJosephManger
DavidJosephManger

@TigerFrankBurris Don't second guess your self. You called it correct from jump street. Miami has been so cursed for the last 14 years it is time for a change. I do recognize this Dolphin team as they present themselves now. They remind me of yesteryear. I predicted the loss by New England. I also knew Miami would lose to Buffalo.I 'm obviously a fins fan. Had Miami beat Buffalo they would of clinched a playoff spot then and there. As a fan i am glad we lost to Buffalo. I wasn't that day but after looking at things more clearly i feel that this young team needed to taste disappointment and real quick if they were to appreciate getting into the playoffs. I'm a realist as well.I'm calling it now.Miami will beat the jets. I believe they will get the help needed to go into the wild card round. I see one team capable of beating Miami in the playoffs. The broncos have the best shot at beating Miami.That does not mean it will happen.We can touch on this again in a couple weeks if they have gotten into the post season but Miami is going to upset some people real soon. It will not be their own fans. Ryan has Matured in a huge way.This guy is going to be one of the greats.Maybe it actually "SHOULD"be after all.

BallRush
BallRush

@Reedster2185  You've been posting this crap for too long.  I usually ignore your stuff because it's so empty headed, except I made the mistake of reading this week's.  What did I find?  The same exact stuff you posted last week, the week before, the month before, and the year before.  Why don't you copy/paste your posts from last year save key strokes?  No one would notice.  Just the same words every week, every month, every year.  Maybe it's time to find a new blog to post on because they won't know it's just recycled bull.  I'm sure many good fans on here agree.    

jopomp2
jopomp2

@Reedster2185  ohhhhhhhhhhh......Reedster is a Patriot/Boston hater.....what's up with that????.....your CONSISTENT hate posts (jealously) makes YOU the biased one.    Will the Patriots get to the SB, let along win it?    A BIG MAYBE.....but with TB and Belichick anything is possible....we've seen it time and again how this team is able to overcome adversity and WIN WIN WIN.  Yea ,yea, yea they lost the last two SB's......but they got there...5 times in the past 12 years. Name any other NFL QB and head coach tandem that has had more success the TB and Belichick.  Personally it would appear that the teams to beat are Denver, CIncy and NE maybe Baltimore or KC.....if I were a betting man I'd put my $$$ on Beatles to win it all.

jopomp2
jopomp2

@canadianox Jeesch.....and I used to like and admire Canadians !  Very clever.....Belicheat.  We've never ever heard that one in Boston!

jopomp2
jopomp2

@Rexal Parshapswich Ohhhhhhhhhhh.....and yet another Patriot/Red Sox/Boston hater.  Jealousy is such a insidious emotions......saps the brain of any rational thinking.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

@RescuedfromESPN remember though 24-0 is what the halftime score was and what happened in the pats game, was the broncos got conserative and turned the ball over.  again for the broncos there going to get the 2 seed and a bye, as they won't lose to either houston or oakland and also condintions likely optimal for there last game at oakland

JohnBellish
JohnBellish

@DumptruckOh, yeah, the Seahawks who can't play that well on the road. If they lose to the Giants, I don't want to hear about them anymore. 


PWINGS
PWINGS

@Phroggo  Your comment seems to suggest that RGIII performance doesn't justify the expectation that he will play to the level of a franchise QB. Point well taken. However, after giving up so much to acquire RGIII, Snyder can hardly afford to declare this a failure yet. Neither his financial investment nor his ego will allow that. Right or wrong, the wagon is firmly hitched to RGIII just as the Jets' wagon was securely hitched attached to Mark Sanchez for several years. Owner's money and ego demand it!

DavidJosephManger
DavidJosephManger

@sneede lol I love your honesty.I hope it is Miami getting thrashed by the nfc. If it has to be a thrashing i will take it as opposed to not being there.Could you please arrange this for me?

John64
John64

@sneede  Yeah, I don't get why the Patriots have suddenly been anointed the #1 seed when they still have two very-loseable back-to-back road games at Miami and Baltimore.  And now Glasskowski is dead again.  The Patriots may have gone 5-1 with Gronk, but their offense was pretty bad without him.  And now their defense has caught up to the general ineptitude of their offense, via injuries.   The Patriots would be pretty formidable if not for all the key injuries... Maybe next year...    

magic mushroom
magic mushroom

@sneede it just takes one game bro! best 2 teams meet in the bowl and it can go either way. as i pointed out earlier...ask me about 2007 season and that superbowl where NYG defense played their best. as a patriots fan that loss stings but i think NYG as a team won that and were every bit deserving of it.

DavidJosephManger
DavidJosephManger

@BallRush @Reedster2185 I have to jump in.The so called (crap) you refer to as being posted is dead on. How can anyone idolize a team of cheaters. Belicheck did far worse than anything Pete rose ever did. If one cheats at a game where billions weekly get bet on the very game they cheated to win then we must look at the corruption potential.If you have tired of this mans postings then why do you not respond to his statements with an intelligent answer? Because you have nothing to say that can justify your trashing this guy. He has told it like it is. By the way you did not seem to get the easy math regarding the Steeler's Superbowl victory's under Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw. If it was not for the corrupted officials New England would not have the record they have now.One case in point would be the swatting the ball call that was not able to be challenged during the first meeting between Miami and New England. Every commentator watching the game called it a terrible call.That cost Miami the game. How convenient of the call to not be challenged.The nfl has a lot of work to do. You sir ,are beyond help with your blinders on regarding this putrid excuse of a football team. When i see the Patriots the thought that comes to mind is Alibaba and his forty thieves.

Dumptruck
Dumptruck

@magic mushroom @Dumptruck just looking at the stats and matching them up, Seattle statistically has the numbers. Plus, whomever the NFC makes to the play-offs will have to go through Seattle and they haven't lost at home in almost 2 years. So the numbers speak for themselves.


But, on any given Sunday....

RickDesper
RickDesper

@John64 How would your knee take being hit from the side while you were running full speed any the knee was planted?  Any ACL in the league would tear from that kind of force.

John64
John64

@Reedster2185   How's your tin foil hat fitting, Reedster?  Might be time to invest in a new one.  You're wearing your current one out.


 

jopomp2
jopomp2

@Reedster2185

And speaking of rational thinking.....let the .775 winning % of TB and Belichick are facts....


Bill Belichick/Tom Brady New England Patriots 2001-present 187 games Won/ loss 145-42 .775

Don Shula/Dan Marino Miami Dolphins 1983-1995 184 116-68 .630 Chuck Noll/Terry Bradshaw Pittsburgh Steelers 1970-1983 158 107-51 .677 Marv Levy/Jim Kelly Buffalo Bills 1986-1996 151 99-52 .656 Hank Stram/Len Dawson Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs 1962-1974 152 92-52-8 .605

jopomp2
jopomp2

@Reedster2185@jopomp2 Like I said.....jealousy is such a debilitating disease...attacks your brains cells and robs you of the ability to think rationally.  My condolences....

John64
John64

@Dumptruck   Not so sure...  Seattle is a completely different (not as good) team outside of the Pacific Northwest... 

magic mushroom
magic mushroom

@Dumptruck @magic mushroom regular season is one thing, playoffs are a whole different animal. just don't crown a SB champion yet... that's why the 2 best teams play in the big bowl....Lombardi ain't handed over to the team with the best regular season record ... ask me about 2007. that's all!

Newsletter