NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT
There was little celebration in the Denver Broncos' locker room after a 47-14 throttling of the Raiders that clinched a first-round bye and completed a 12-4 season that left them as one of five teams to post the league's best record in the 2014 regular season.
Terrance Knighton. "So we're just looking forward to getting out there and playing again."
But that will wait until after the bye -- which is crucial for the Broncos. After playing 13 consecutive weeks since a Week 4 bye that came so early that Knighton deemed it "unnecessary," the Broncos limp into the playoffs with two more contributors injured in Sunday's win after safety David Bruton and guard Orlando Franklin suffered concussions.
Bruton's injury put another squeeze on the core of the Broncos' two back lines of defense, which is already compromised by the season-ending losses of linebackers Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving and safety Quinton Carter and the Week 17 absences of linebacker Brandon Marshall and safety T.J. Ward.
Ward practiced on a limited basis last week, but without a helmet after suffering a neck strain. Marshall began working out during practice last week as he recovers from a mid-foot sprain that will require him to manage pain when he returns. The bye give both a better chance of returning, although cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was quick to amend that.
"They will be back. Not a 'better chance.' It's the playoffs," he said, with a knowing laugh. "They've got to play through everything in the playoffs."
But the Broncos' roster is full of nicks, bruises -- and players recovering from an illness that has ransacked the Broncos in recent weeks, most prominently hitting Manning during the game at San Diego. By last Saturday, the Broncos' injury report listed 21 names -- 39.6 percent of the 53-man roster.
"I'm tired of reading that injury report," Broncos coach John Fox said.
"I think this bye week is coming at a good time," added Manning.
In recent weeks, the Broncos have reshaped their identity, relying less on Manning's right arm and more on an improved rushing game led by C.J. Anderson and a defense that ended the season atop the AFC and third in the league in yardage per game, and second in yards allowed per play.
For the first time in the Manning era, the Broncos appear capable of winning the kind of grinding duel that often comes in the postseason. That's the sort of football that the Ravens and Jets played when they won at New England in the 2009, 2010 and 2012 postseasons; for the Broncos to achieve their Super Bowl dream, they might have to do it again.
"That's been our goal all season: to win on defense," said Harris. "We want the offense to always do well, but we're not paying attention to what they do all the way, we're just worried about what we can control."
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES
--2015 Opponents: Home: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings. Away: Kansas City Chiefs, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, Indianapolis Colts, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions.
--The Broncos are serious about taking the bye week to recuperate from their various injuries -- and all the evidence needed was in the absence of Peyton Manning from the team's practices Tuesday and Wednesday.
All of the quarterbacking work was left to backup Brock Osweiler and practice-squad member Zac Dysert. And with Emmanuel Sanders, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker also taking some time to rest, the battered Broncos were able to capitalize off their bye week.
"I'm trying to take advantage of the time and spend some time trying to get to feeling better," Manning said. "I know a lot of guys have done the same thing. A number of guys didn't practice and hopefully that serves us well. Everybody's ready to go once we get back to practice next week."