DENVER (AP) — Domata Peko had no idea when he left Cincinnati for Denver in free agency that he was trading one sad situation for another.
He’ll face his old team Sunday when the Broncos (3-6) try to snap out of a five-week funk against the Bengals (3-6).
“It’s a big one for me,” Peko said. “When you play your old team, you want to go out there and show them, ‘What the heck? Why didn’t you keep me?’ I know it’s a business and I was there for 11 seasons. I guess my time was up there, and that’s just how it goes. Even Peyton had to leave.”
Like Manning, Peko has found rejuvenation in Denver, where he’s been everything the Broncos were looking for to plug a gaping hole on defense.
“He’s probably the most positive teammate that I’ve ever been around,” linebacker Von Miller said. “You look at him like, ‘Man, are you 24 or 23 years old?’ He’s one of the oldest guys in the locker room (32) and he still has that energy on the practice field, off the practice field, hot, cold, raining, loss, win, he’s the same guy. He’s been great. He’s definitely been a shining star.”
In a dimming season in Denver.
Thanks to Peko, the Broncos are once again a top-five team against the run after slipping to bottom-five last season — it’s everything else that’s gone haywire in Denver during a five-game funk in which the Broncos have been outscored by nearly 100 points.
“I love it here,” Peko said. “Hey, we’re going through a rough time but in this league you’ve got to do it week by week. So, now we’ve got the Bengals ahead of us. I’m going to be really pumped for this game against my old team.”
This wasn’t what Peko thought he had signed up for after he put his signature on a two-year, $7.5 million deal in Denver last March.
The Broncos had been to two of the previous four Super Bowls and the Bengals, who haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, lost all six playoff games during Peko’s 11 seasons in Cincinnati.
“In Cincy, we’re always talking about, ‘Oh, I want to win a playoff game. I want to win a playoff game.’ But over here, we’re talking about winning championships,” Peko said when he signed. “That’s why I’m here. I want to win a championship.”
That again looks like a pipe dream, but as Miller said, any turnaround starts with a single win.
Other subplots when the Bengals try to snap a 10-game losing streak in Denver, where they last won in 1975:
QUICK HOOK : The Bengals need to keep their cool. Their best offensive and defensive players have been ejected before halftime of the past two games.
Receiver A.J. Green was kicked out in Jacksonville for clobbering cornerback Jalen Ramsey and in Tennessee, linebacker Vontaze Burfict was ejected for brushing aside an official’s arm as a sideline scuffle wound down two plays after he bumped DeMarco Murray out of bounds.
“He does us no good when he’s sitting in the locker room for half a ballgame,” Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said.
Burfict has at least one fan in Denver.
Peko said neither flag should have been thrown on his old buddy, but Burfict should realize he’s “under the microscope because of his history of all those penalties” and suspensions.
“I love Burf. I love how he plays. He plays hard. He plays with a lot of emotion,” Peko said. “He’s a great player, man. You know he’s going to give his best. If you’re in a dark alley, you want him on your side. He’s a good dude.”
MIRROR IMAGES: Both teams appear headed for early offseason vacations after five-year playoff runs.
Their problems are similar, too: horrid offensive line play that puts their quarterback under constant pressure, limits what they can call and ends up exhausting their overworked defenses.
“They’re kind of like us,” Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. “They’re a good team, just ain’t been able to put it together for 60 minutes.”
Two teams going bad makes for a good matchup, suggested Miller.
“We’ve just been through a tough patch. We’ve got another team that’s been going through the same tough time that we’ve been going through. So, it should be a good game this weekend.”
SLOW STARTS: The Broncos have been outscored 55-9 in the first quarter during their losing streak, so the path out of this mess starts with, well, a fast start.
“That’s everything,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “I can’t wait until we can get up on a team to where we can sit back and play comfortable and call shots.”
The Bengals know just how the Broncos feel.
“We’ve been making it third-and-long and all that dudes are doing is dropping eight guys in coverage and that’s not good for any offense,” Bengals receiver Brandon LaFell said.
LIKE LEWIS: Broncos rookie coach Vance Joseph learned a lot from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis during the two seasons he was his secondary coach, especially patience.
“It took Marvin a long time for his football team to be competitive. He stayed with the process. He didn’t change the process,” Joseph said.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
AP Sports Writer Joe Kay contributed.
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