ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Just over a year ago the Denver Broncos weren’t the Super Bowl darlings they are today but the very definition of ordinary.
They were about to fall to 2-4 when the trudged into the locker room trailing San Diego 24-0 at halftime.
With his charisma and calming demeanor that the Broncos say they already miss while he recovers from heart surgery this week, coach John Fox gave a succinct – but not curt – halftime pep talk.
“We knew we were capable of doing better,” wide receiver Demaryius Thomas recounted. “We got a halftime speech from Foxy and ever since then, it’s like … wow!”
Beginning with their 35-24 comeback win over the Chargers, whom the Broncos visit again Sunday, Denver has won 18 of 20 games and has outscored opponents by an average of 36-20.
“I think the record speaks for itself,” interim head coach Jack Del Rio said. “It was a tremendous turnaround. It was a pivotal point in the year. We kind of found ourselves at that point and have played great since.”
Fox didn’t exactly channel Knute Rockne on that night, players recounted this week. His words of wisdom were plain and simple, setting the tone for a classic recalibration that turned the Broncos into a power.
“We’re better than this.”
“We’ve got a lot of time left.”
“Just go out there and treat it like the score is 0-0.”
“Just go have fun and play.”
Aside from two hard-to-dismiss defeats, by three points to Baltimore in double-overtime in the playoffs and by six at Indianapolis in Manning’s homecoming last month, the Broncos have been an absolute machine ever since their 35-0 second-half run over the Chargers.
This year, they’re averaging six touchdowns a game.
“That’s a lot of points,” marveled Thomas, who kick-started that comeback with a 29-yard touchdown catch, one of three TD passes thrown by Manning that second half to go along with two defensive TDs.
With the addition of Wes Welker, the Broncos have scored 343 points in the first half of this season for an average of 42.9, which would obliterate the NFL record of 36.8 set by the 2007 New England Patriots.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Thomas said. “A lot of fun.”
Just two years ago, Thomas was part of a run-oriented approach directed by Tebow where chances and points were precious. Now, he’s an integral part of a high-octane offense where scoring and opportunities are plentiful.
And it all began on Oct. 15, 2012.
“That was one of my favorite games of all time,” tight end Joel Dreessen said. “I’ve never been a part of something like that where we were down 24-0 at half, everyone’s in trouble at halftime, we get sent to our lockers and we come out and just everything is working. It was just such a fun, fun half to come back and be a part of.”
Right guard Louis Vasquez, who signed a big free agent deal with Denver in the offseason after playing four years in San Diego, saw the game through the prism of collapse, not comeback.
“At the time, we felt like we were rolling pretty well. We had it sewn up, we just had to go out and finish,” Vasquez said. “Then at the end of it all it was like witnessing your dog die. It was just a bad feeling, a bad taste in your mouth.”
Vasquez is one of three Broncos, along with defensive end Shaun Phillips and backup cornerback Quentin Jammer, who were on the wrong side of 35-24 and will be making their homecoming Sunday when the Broncos (7-1) visit the Chargers (4-4).
“I asked Shaun Phillips once, `Man, what did you guys think when we came back from 24 points down?'” Dreessen recalled. “He was like, `Man, there was nothing we could do.'”
Notes: Fox was released from the hospital Friday and will stay at his offseason home in Charlotte while recovering from aortic valve replacement surgery. … S Duke Ihenacho (ankle) practiced Friday for the first time since leaving the Broncos’ game against Washington on Oct. 27, but Mike Adams is expected to start Sunday. … CB Champ Bailey has yet to practice since aggravating his sprained left foot at Indianapolis on Oct. 20.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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