DENVER (AP) – Focused solely as he is on helping the Buffalo Bills end the NFL’s longest current playoff drought at 14 years, Kyle Orton was in no mood to reflect on his time in Denver as he prepared to face his former team.
Asked how he looked at his three seasons with the Broncos, which included both the best year of his career in 2009 and his worst season two years later when he succumbed to Tebowmania, Orton demurred.
“I’m pretty happy. I’ve got some good friends back there,” Orton said. “That’s pretty much about it.”
His five-minute conference call with Denver reporters came to an abrupt end when he was later asked what comes to mind when he thinks about Denver.
“The mountains,” he replied, then added “See ya,” and hung up.
This isn’t Orton’s first trip back to the Rockies. The Broncos granted him his release in 2011 when Tim Tebow leapfrogged him, and Orton quickly signed with Kansas City. He returned to Denver on New Year’s Day to help the Chiefs beat Tebow and the Broncos 7-3 in a game that helped convince John Elway to pursue Peyton Manning three months later.
“I think Kyle Orton is very underrated,” Broncos safety Rahim Moore said. “I think in Buffalo that he’s found a home. They’ve given him chances to play, and he’s been winning games for them.”
Orton has gone 5-3 as Buffalo’s starter, putting the Bills (7-5) on the cusp of their first non-losing season in a decade.
Moore said that when Orton indoctrinated him into the NFL by burning him repeatedly in training camp, the quarterback would throw in some trash talk.
“He’s very feisty,” Moore said. “You can tell that he loves the game of football. He’s very, very ultracompetitive. I mean, he doesn’t want to lose. He doesn’t want to lose in pingpong. He doesn’t want to lose in any game. So he was a real good teammate, man. I know he’s geeked up to come back here, too.”
Moore said the Broncos (9-3) have a tough task Sunday because Orton looks as good as ever.
“He’s never been mobile, but … he can pick you apart,” Moore said. “I mean, he’s making great throws on film. And part of the success, why Buffalo’s winning, is not only just their defense, but he’s making plays for their offense.”
Other subplots to follow when the teams kick off Sunday afternoon:
M(asterisk)A(asterisk)S(asterisk)H UNIT: The Broncos came out of their game at Kansas City unscathed, but they couldn’t make it through the week with their wide receiving corps intact. Demaryius Thomas injured an ankle Wednesday and Cody Latimer left Thursday’s practice with concussion symptoms.
A gimpy Thomas heightens the importance of Denver’s retooled line to continue boring holes for C.J. Anderson, who has run for 167 and 168 yards the last two weeks.
RED FLAG: Denver’s drives keep stalling without tight end Julius Thomas, who hopes to return from a sprained left ankle Sunday. Before he got hurt, the red zone efficiency was 77 percent. Without him, it’s 40 percent.
Last week at Kansas City, the Broncos settled for five field goals after stalling at Kansas City’s 4, 6, 11, 14 and 19. While Connor Barth was 5 for 5, he had no touchbacks on his eight kickoffs, and the Broncos signed the man he replaced, Brandon McManus, back on the teams as a kickoff specialist.
PURSING PEYTON: The Bills lead the league with 48 sacks. Mario Williams has a dozen, Marcell Dareus 10 and Jerry Hughes 9 1-2. The Bills have a sack in 25 straight games, but this is their toughest task yet as Manning has only been sacked 13 times so far.
“He hasn’t been sacked a lot this year,” Williams said, “so our goal is to go out and change that.”
BUDDING BILLS: The Bills are 7-5 for the first time since 2000. An upset Sunday will make them 8-5 for the first time since 1999, when they were on their way to an 11-5 finish and what stands as their most “recent” playoff appearance.
But they face a daunting December with games left against Green Bay and at Oakland and New England.
WILLIAMS’ HONOR: Williams anchored a Buffalo defense that allowed just 13 points a game in November, earning the ninth-year pro his first career AFC Player of the Month Award.
“It’s a team sport and nobody can do it alone,” he said. “Regardless of the outcome, we all work hard, we all got a lot of work to do and we just keep pushing.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow contributed to this story.
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