By Rich Kurtzman
While the Denver Broncos currently lead the AFC West due to a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chargers, a .500 record is not where they wanted to be at the bye.
Still, the team should consider themselves lucky, needing comebacks to win against the Steelers in Week One and versus San Diego Monday—they could be in much worse shape.
Denver’s 3-3 record is indicative of their personal successes and failures; let’s take a look at which players are rising and which are falling for the Broncos to this point.
Peyton Manning – Through six games this season, Manning’s been nothing short of, well, Manning. Actually, he’s been better than advertised, especially considering the new city, new coaches and new cast of characters he has to work with on the offensive side of the ball. Look at his statistics and it’s easy to see he’s an elite quarterback once again. Manning is second in yards (1,808) and passer rating (105.0), tied for second in touchdowns (14), third in completions (154) and fourth in completion percentage (67.8). He’s legitimately playing at an MVP level, and he’ll be considered at the end of the year if he can continue playing this amazingly.
Demaryius Thomas – Thomas, a third-year receiver, is still a raw athletic talent and working hard to improve as an NFL wideout. He’s been phenomenal for most of the season, catching deep passes and turning them upfield for huge gains. Although, he also fumbled the ball twice on such big plays, costing Denver points and hurting their chances of winning those games. Even with those gaffes, Thomas has become Manning’s No. 1 option, leading the team in yards (542) and touchdowns scored (3).
Chris Harris/Tony Carter – Both Harris and Carter came up huge Monday night when starting cornerback Tracy Porter was forced to miss the game with an illness. Harris picked off two passes, which now put him in the lead for Denver, including the game’s final score that made it a 35-24 win. Carter returned a fumble for a touchdown of his own, while picking off a pass in the third quarter. And Harris has been huge all season long as the Broncos’ nickleback, having to deal with speedy slot receivers and covering them well overall.
Tracy Porter – Porter couldn’t play Monday Night in San Diego because of an illness, but it may have been better for the Broncos he was sidelined anyway. Harris and Carter stepped up in a huge way, and Porter’s been slipping as of late. In fact, ever since winning AFC Defensive Player of the Week after his eight tackle, five passes defended and pick-six performance the season’s first game, Porter’s been burned multiple times and only defended one pass. He must step his game back up following the bye, or possibly see his job lost to one of the youngsters.
Willis McGahee – The veteran running back started the season so strongly, but he’s really fallen off since. Through his first four games, McGahee ran for 325 yards and three scores, while he’s only rushed for 106 yards the last two weeks. His huge fumble against the Patriots was a killer for the Broncos’ comeback hopes two weeks ago, and Denver needs him to be a reliable runner the rest of the way.
Joe Mays – Mays, who’s been filling in at middle linebacker with starter D.J. Williams suspended, was benched for the Monday Night game. The fifth-year pro hasn’t performed as well as needed, accounting for only 20 tackles and half a sack in five games. Mays is a hard hitter, but he’s seen as too slow to keep up with running backs and tight ends in passing routes. It’s unclear where he stands as the season moves forward.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.