ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – This was one field trip Eric Decker would rather forget.
Even a day later, the Denver Broncos receiver who doubles as a punt returner was still kicking himself for letting his feet get in the way of a sure touchdown. Decker broke free on a return and had clear sailing to the end zone, only to be brought down by, well, himself.
At least Decker had a sense of humor about tripping himself up, joking that he ran into an “invisible fence.” Still, he got quite a bit of ribbing for his stumble after the Broncos’ 24-17 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday that moved them into the AFC championship game against New England.
Never mind that he returned the punt 47 yards – shedding several tackles – before his fall late in the first half, Decker’s less-than-fancy footwork will be what’s remembered, not the distance.
Asked if he received more congratulations from friends for moving on to face the Patriots on Sunday or his tackle of himself, Decker laughed and said: “More of a hard time for tripping myself. … That’s something to be proud of.”
It’s the second time something like that has happened to Decker, too, and against the Chargers in both instances, no less. Last season, Decker caught a pass from Peyton Manning and had no one in his path for a score, but stumbled over the 45-yard line.
The divisional playoff contest against San Diego wasn’t exactly one of Decker’s finest performances. He also had a pass from Manning bounce off him in the end zone that led to an interception and later bobbled an onside kick that San Diego recovered. He finished with just two catches for 32 yards.
But each time Decker has had a lackluster game this season, he’s bounced back in a big way.
Cases in point:
– In the season opener against Baltimore, he had two catches. The next week he hauled in nine passes on the road versus the New York Giants.
– On Nov. 24 in New England, Decker hauled in one pass for 5 yards in blustery conditions. The following week at Kansas City he had eight catches for a career-high 174 yards and four TDs.
– In a loss to San Diego on Dec. 12, he was held to two catches for 42 yards. At Houston the next week, Decker had a career-high 10 catches for 131 yards and two scores.
“You can’t always rely on one person,” explained Decker, a third-round pick in 2010 out of the University of Minnesota. “For us, it’s just being in the right position because 18 (Manning) is going to get us the ball.”
Decker is definitely eager to face the Patriots again. That’s a game the Broncos let slip away after racing out to a 24-0 halftime lead. A punt that bounced off blocker Tony Carter set up Stephen Gostkowski‘s 31-yard winning field goal as the Patriots prevailed 34-31 in overtime.
“We didn’t finish – a hard lesson learned,” Decker said. “I thought we’ve had a couple of those this year. We faced a lot of adversity and when you look at this week, you have to capitalize and make sure you minimize all mistakes throughout the game. We had a couple (against San Diego) – a couple myself.”
It’s been quite a season for Decker, who’s in the last season of a contract he signed as a rookie four years ago. He set career highs in catches (87, which also happens to be his uniform number) and yards receiving (1,288).
Off the field, life has been just as good. Decker married country and pop singer Jessie James, with the couple opening up their home to a reality TV series entitled “Eric & Jessie: Game On.”
This weekend, it will definitely be game on, with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
“This is going to be a challenge for us and we want to know where we’re at as a football team,” Decker said. “When you play such a good, consistent team you find out a lot about yourself and I think that’s what we’re looking forward to Sunday.”
As for returning punts, a task he began performing late in the season, Decker said he’s enjoying it. Well, until he tackled himself, that is.
“If I had stayed up and not tripped myself, maybe I would feel better about myself,” he said.
Coach John Fox even kidded Decker, saying the return was “outstanding” and that he made a lot of good cuts to get into the open.
“After that, maybe not so much,” Fox grinned.
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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