ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The Denver Broncos shrug off double-digit deficits like Peyton Manning dismisses his cold-weather critics: with a proverbial body slam.
Four times this season the Broncos (11-2) have dug themselves an early hole against a lesser opponent and four times they’ve climbed right out thanks mostly to a turbo-charged offense that’s putting up points at a record pace.
They’d like to put the colossal comeback on hiatus, however.
“Certainly the more situations you can face early in the season to get you ready for games late in the season I think it’s an advantage,” Manning said Tuesday.
“I think we’d like not to, you know, be down by double digits, get off to a better start on both sides of the ball, special teams. It would be a good time to start that this week.”
The Broncos are never out of it with No. 18 on their side, something they first recognized last season when they overcame a 24-0 halftime deficit at San Diego, a comeback that propelled them on an 11-game winning streak.
They face the Chargers (6-7) again Thursday night in Denver intent on avoiding an early deficit like the kind they’ve had to overcome each of the past two weeks.
The fell behind 21-7 at Kansas City before winning 35-28 and then trailed Tennessee 21-10 Sunday before dismantling the Titans 51-28, becoming the first team since the 1970 merger to top 50 points in three games.
They also overcame two-TD deficits this season against Dallas and Washington.
“Teams are able to give us their best shot, but they’re not able to keep up with us,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “I mean, they can’t play 60 minutes with us when we play our best.”
The problem is the Broncos haven’t been playing their best until they’ve found themselves trailing by two scores.
They’re averaging an eye-popping 39.6 points a game, but they’re allowing a disturbing 26.5, the worst among all division leaders.
No team has ever won a Super Bowl with that porous of a defense.
The only team to hoist Lombardi’s Trophy after allowing 25 or more points a game in the regular season was the 2011 New York Giants, who surrendered 400 points that season before playing championship defense in the playoffs and holding each of their four opponents in the postseason well below that average: Atlanta (2), Green Bay (20), San Francisco (17) and New England (17).
The Broncos keep playing with fire and they know that one of these days they might not be able to make up for their early inadequacies no matter how much firepower they have on offense.
“I wish we could write it a little bit different,” said linebacker Von Miller, who followed up a quiet first half Sunday by forcing two turnovers to help fuel the Broncos’ 31-7 second-half flourish. “I wish we caused six turnovers in the first quarter on defense and do all this amazing stuff and I think we are on our way doing that stuff.”
Part of the problem is injuries. The Broncos are without safety Rahim Moore, who hopes to return in the playoffs after surgery to fix a blood flow problem in his lower left leg, and lineman Derek Wolfe, who is working his way back from a seizure-like episode that has sidelined him for two weeks.
Also, tackle Kevin Vickerson is out for the season with a dislocated hip and middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard‘s play has been affected by a shoulder stinger he first sustained in Dallas in October and which has limited his play the past two weeks after aggravating the injury.
The juggling on defense has had a ripple effect on special teams, which has allowed 108- and 95-yard kickoff returns the past two weeks.
“At the end of the day, it’s not where you start, it’s where you finish,” coach John Fox said. “And I think it kind of builds a little bit when guys don’t blink and you can weather that problematic start.”
Notes: Wolfe, WR Wes Welker (concussion) and RB C.J. Anderson (illness) didn’t practice Tuesday. … Asked why he had a salty response on the radio for critics of his play in cold weather after throwing for nearly 400 yards and four TDs in icy Denver last weekend, Manning said, “We’ve got a game Thursday, so that’s old news.”
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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