ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Before his out-of-the-blue four-touchdown breakout at Kansas City last weekend, the only starring role Eric Decker enjoyed this year was in his reality TV show about his wedding to country and pop singer Jessie James.
“Eric & Jessie: Game On” was filled with tantalizing shots of the beautiful couple.
In between the pillow talk and steamy hot tub scenes, Decker was shown fretting over his future with the Denver Broncos last summer as he approached the final year of the contract he signed as a rookie four years ago.
By the time the show debuted in September, Decker had a gold ring on his finger but no extension in hand.
On Wednesday, he insisted his mind this season hasn’t been on his bank account but on the business of football.
“Yeah, it’s natural before the season to want security, to want to know what your future’s going to be, but once the season comes around, it’s something that you just have to forget about because that will just take care of itself,” Decker said. “In the end, my focus was leaning toward becoming a better football player, becoming a better teammate, and hopefully with all that hard work, with all that determination, it pays off in the long run.
“It’s something that obviously is present, it’s there, but it’s nothing that is flustering me or is on my mind a lot.”
What did have him flummoxed this season, he admits, was a balky shoulder and constant press coverage.
After ranking second in the league with 13 TD catches last season, Decker had just three touchdown grabs through the first 11 games this year – and none in November – while Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker andJulius Thomas were regularly spiking the ball in the end zone.
Decker had just nine catches last month and he got absolutely no love from the officials who turned a deaf ear to his complaints that he was getting mugged by cornerbacks intent on slowing down Denver’s turbo-charged offense.
Against New England two weeks ago, Decker caught just one of five passes thrown his way, for 5 yards.
Teammates and coaches said Decker kept his head down and his chin up, however, as evidenced by the way he kept drawing accolades for his key blocks that kept springing teammates for big gains.
“Yeah, it’s not fun” getting shut down, Decker said. “But again that’s sometimes how the game goes.”
Decker set a franchise record Sunday with a four-touchdown flourish at Kansas City as the Broncos (10-2) took control of the AFC West and stayed in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the playoffs.
The slump-busting performance, which earned him his first career AFC Offensive Player of the Week honor, did wonders for his image and his morale – and maybe even his future financial worth.
“It’s funny how people start rolling around. One day they hate you, the other day, they love you,” Decker said. “But a lot of love’s been given out. And it’s been fun to talk, I guess, about it and relive it, but now it’s on to next week. It’s in the past. It’s forgotten.”
Decker’s dominant day – he set up Denver’s fifth TD with a 42-yard catch to the Chiefs 3 – was the kind of performance that can erase a season’s worth of frustrations and give a guy a big confidence boost for the stretch run.
“I certainly hope so,” quarterback Peyton Manning said. “Eric had an outstanding year last year, and he’s definitely a huge part of our offense. You know sometimes these wide receivers, you kind of never know when it’s going to be your day, and I know probably a couple games where Eric may have been frustrated he maybe wasn’t scoring as many touchdowns as he had (last season or) as some of the other guys (have this season). Then, all of a sudden you catch four in one game. So it’s a credit to him for he was focused and kept working hard in practice.”
Notes: “Felt great,” coach John Fox said following his first practice since returning to work four weeks after open-heart surgery. … DE Derek Wolfe missed practice Wednesday as doctors continued trying to figure out why he suffered seizure-like symptoms Friday on the team’s bus ride to the airport. … Manning sat out practice, which was held indoors because of snow and cold. The forecast for Sunday calls for 15-degree weather and more snow. “I’m weatherproof,” said LB Von Miller. Manning said pretty much the same thing, insisting he’s not a different player in wintry weather despite statistics that show otherwise: “That’s not how I feel,” he said.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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