Despite troubles, Broncos could get playoff spot |

Despite troubles, Broncos could get playoff spot

Arnie Stapleton
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
Denver Broncos kick returner Eddie Royal dives to recover his fumble during the third quarter of an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Sunday, Nov. 30, 2008 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The Broncos beat the Jets 34-17. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)
AP | FR51951 AP

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. ” To quote Jim Mora, “Playoffs?!”

Yes, playoffs.

The Denver Broncos lead the league in injuries and inexperience, and this ragtag bunch of backups, rookies and castoffs could be among the first in the NFL to clinch a spot in the postseason this weekend.

If San Diego loses to Oakland on Thursday night and Denver beats Kansas City on Sunday, the banged-up Broncos, who have a dozen players on injured reserve and haven’t had defensive leaders Champ Bailey, D.J. Williams and Nate Webster for a month, are in the playoffs for the first time in three years.

This despite starting a different tailback in each of their last five games and a different free safety four of the last five weeks. And in spite of an injury epidemic that reached new depths Sunday at the Meadowlands, when at one point during their 34-17 rout of the New York Jets the entire linebacking corps and secondary consisted of backups.

San Diego has been beset by the injury bug, too. Yet, the Broncos (7-5) aren’t counting out the collapsing Chargers (4-8) just yet.

“It’s far from over,” coach Mike Shanahan insisted Monday. “We’ve seen teams bounce back very quickly. The thing that we’re going to do is hopefully concentrate on the job at hand. We’ve got Kansas City in our backyard” on Sunday.

“We’ve got to worry about our business. We know what San Diego’s capable of doing. We’ve seen them play some excellent games,” Shanahan said. “To assume something like that to me is a big mistake, for our football team, as well as the rest of the NFL.”

Another big mistake would be to assume the Broncos will handle the underdog Chiefs (2-10), who thrashed them 33-19 in Week 4, sending Denver on a roller-coaster of a season.

In this wild and wacky NFL season, the Broncos have been the biggest enigma of them all.

At one point, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas got it wrong six straight weeks regarding the baffling Broncos, who, starting with their loss at Kansas City on Sept. 28, have beaten four teams with a combined 29-19 record and lost to five with a combined 23-36 record.

One week before handling the Jets so easily on the road, they were thumped by the Raiders at home.

“I think sometimes a young team, I hate to say it, but you play according to your opponent,” defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. “Sometimes it’s as if when everyone is saying we can’t win, we get that extra motivation to prove people wrong. But the teams that we’re supposed to beat, sometimes we have a letdown, and our coach always says the biggest opponent is ourselves.”

Bailey’s five-game absence with a torn groin is the longest stretch he’s been sidelined in his career, but the Broncos won three of those games thanks to rookies, undrafted free agents and other teams’ discards, including defensive backs Josh Bell, Calvin Lowry and veteran Vernon Fox.

Bailey is pleased the Broncos stayed afloat, but he’s eager to end his hiatus.

“I definitely want to be out there when we clinch this division. So, I’ll be out there this week one way or another,” Bailey said.

Williams and Webster also are on the mend, and that’s going to leave the Broncos figuring out how to juggle minutes for rookies Wesley Woodyard and Spencer Larsen, who have played well in their place.

“You want those problems,” said Shanahan, who has had plenty of practice plugging in backups and welcomes the notion of sending some starters back onto the field for a change.

The Broncos have already had to place 12 players, including five starters, on I.R., and backup defensive tackle Josh Shaw is expected to join them after dislocating his left elbow Sunday.

The Broncos lost Larsen (hip), Ekuban (shoulder) and cornerback Dre’ Bly (shin) on consecutive plays in the third quarter.

Jets fans figured they were just exaggerating their ailments to slow down Brett Favre’s no-huddle offense, and Bly, who returned to the game along with Ekuban, acknowledged a bit of gamesmanship.

“You know Brett, him being a savvy vet, when he sees somebody down, he likes to do a no-huddle, catch a defense off balance. I knew that, so I just laid on the ground and let the pain go away,” Bly said. “But that’s one thing you have to do: You have injuries, anything that’s bothering you, stay on the ground, don’t try to be Superman and rush back up because it can hurt your defense.”

The Broncos certainly didn’t relish sending in more backups, but on the other hand, they’re quite used to it by now.

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