Can the Broncos make the Chargers eat their words?
September 12, 2008
DENVER The Denver Broncos are determined to keep LaDainian Tomlinson from running the ball down their throats again, Philip Rivers from running his mouth anew, and the San Diego Chargers from running up the score like they did last year.The Broncos were bothered more by the smackdowns than all the trash talk when the Chargers walloped them by a combined 64-6 in 2007.But Denver’s spoiled season and the gap between the teams was best epitomized on Christmas Eve when television cameras caught Rivers, the Chargers’ smack-talking quarterback, taunting his counterpart, Jay Cutler, in the waning minutes of San Diego’s 23-3 win.The Broncos didn’t appreciate the Chargers rubbing it in, but what could they really say?”To the victor the spoils something like that,” Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley said. “They beat us up twice last year, so they can talk all they want. Until we get the edge on them, it’s hard to say anything.”The Broncos (1-0) are hoping they can make the Chargers (0-1) eat their words Sunday at Invesco Field, where San Diego handed Denver its worst home loss since 1966 with a 41-3 trouncing last year.”It was a pretty good beating both times,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. “The only thing that was different was the field.”Despite a rookie-laden roster, the Broncos believe they’ve narrowed the gap with the two-time defending AFC West champs, and not just because the Chargers lost star linebacker Shawne Merriman for the season with a knee injury.Denver’s defense has been retooled, largely in reaction to how Tomlinson & Co. shredded them last season.”Them guys came out and dominated us last year. I think we scored a total of six points and gave up a total of it seemed like 100,” Broncos cornerback Dre’ Bly said. “But we’re a different team now.”The Broncos sport a new defensive boss (Bob Slowik); two new defensive tackles (Dewayne Robertson and Marcus Thomas); two new safeties (Marlon McCree and Marquand Manuel); and a reshuffled linebacking corps, with newcomer Boss Bailey joining D.J. Williams and Nate Webster, who flip-flopped their positions, Webster moving to the middle and Williams returning to the weak side.Denver has two rookies starting on offense: left tackle Ryan Clady, who kept Cutler’s jersey clean in Oakland, and wide receiver Eddie Royal, who wasted no time in making his mark on the NFL, catching nine passes for 146 yards in the Broncos’ 41-14 rout of the Raiders.And Brandon Marshall returns from his one-week suspension for violating the league’s conduct code.”This just opens up a lot of possibilities for us,” Cutler said. “We anticipated B-Marsh getting a lot of double coverage up top, and now you can’t, because Eddie is on the other side.”Nobody’s more excited about Royal’s emergence than Marshall, who caught 102 passes for 1,325 yards last year, but figures to see fewer safeties sticking to him over the top with Royal on the other side now.Cutler can’t want to unleash this terrific tandem Sunday, when he’ll have the added benefit of not having to worry about Merriman, who announced Tuesday he was opting for season-ending surgery.”You want to get their best shot, and obviously with Shawne out, we’re not going to,” Cutler said. “But they’re still a talented defense. They still have a lot of guys that’ll pick up the slack. We played without Brandon Marshall last week and we got along just fine. They’re going to find a way to make it happen.”The Broncos swear they’re not breathing sighs of relief over his absence.”With or without him it’s going to be tough,” Denver tight end Daniel Graham said. “There’s a lot of good players on that defense.”Cutler admittedly knows little about Merriman’s replacement, Jyles Tucker.”Who?” Cutler responded when asked about him on a conference call.Jyles Tucker, it was repeated.All Cutler knew about Tucker was that he got a new five-year contract recently despite playing in just seven regular-season games in his two-year NFL career.”He’s going to come out and want to fill the role that Merriman had. I don’t know if he’s going be able to play at that high level right away, but he’s definitely going to make some plays for them,” Cutler said.As for Rivers, Cutler said he has no beef with him, downplaying any animosity that may exist between the two young quarterbacks.”He doesn’t play defense,” Cutler said. “I’m not worried about him.”Rivers said his trash talk is “all in fun.” His antics, however, have made him public enemy No. 1 in Denver. “You always expect it to be hostile and it always is going to Denver,” Rivers said. “I’m sure it’ll be a little more revved up for this one.”The Broncos sure are.”It’s embarrassing what they’ve done to us,” defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. “We definitely have something to prove. We want to be competitive.”And get in the last word for a change.