AFC West: Denver Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As DeMarcus Ware essentially dragged himself, willed himself really, through the 2013 season, his elbow hurt, his thigh hurt and sometimes his pride hurt.

"I just didn’t feel like myself," Ware said. "I tried to play, had some good moments, but the season didn’t go like I like seasons to go. I knew I had better in me."

So when the Dallas Cowboys released Ware last March, the profile was declining player coming off injury-filled season. But that is not what the Denver Broncos saw.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDenver has limited pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware's workload this year, and he has responded with one of the best seasons of his career.
The Broncos looked down the road, projected a healed, managed, Ware into their defense, where the quality of the snap count would trump quantity. As executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has put it; "We thought once he got healthy, and if we could put him in the situations where he could be his best, he had a lot of football left in him, a lot of football."

As the Broncos head down the stretch toward the postseason with Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the team has monitored how much football Ware plays and gotten his best because of it.

Fourteen games into the season, with what the Broncos hope are the biggest games still to be played, Ware has played 669 snaps on defense or 70.3 percent of the defensive plays. There are times on early downs, sometimes even on pass-rush downs, when Ware is on the sideline.

Quanterus Smith, who has played 279 snaps, or 29.3 percent of the defense’s plays thus far, is usually the one working in Ware’s defensive end spot as the Broncos pick their spots for their member of the 100-sack club.

The result has been that Ware, at 32 and in his 10th season, feels, and has played, as good as ever.

"I feel like this right here is probably at this time in my career the best I’ve ever felt," Ware said. "I don’t feel like there are any dings on my body where it’s prohibiting me from doing certain things. Every player gets out here and they’re sore or they’re tired -- that comes with football. But once you rehabilitate yourself and recoup during the week and feel 100 percent before each game, I’ve felt that way this year and it feels great."

The result has been 10 sacks to go with just the third interception of his career. The Broncos also hope it allows Ware to power his way down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Last season he had one sack over the Cowboys' last six games, and in 2012, when he finished with 11.5 sacks, he had 1.5 sacks over the last six games. Ware has one sack in the Broncos’ current four-game win streak -- it was against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We use a lot of people," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "We want people to be in the best situations for us for what we need to get done ... We’re always going to have (Ware) in the best situations."

For Ware it’s all about playing in his first postseason game since the 2009 season, and all about trying to reach the title game for the first time in his career. Following the game in Cincinnati, the Broncos will close out the regular season in Denver against the Oakland Raiders, with Denver still clinging to a chance at home-field advantage in the AFC if the Broncos win both remaining regular-season games and the New England Patriots lose one of their last two games.

"Every game I feel like is a must-win game," Ware said. "You’ve got to think about it that way, because you want to go into the postseason on a high and motivated. You can look at a lot of teams around the league -- some of them are trying to get in, some of them are trying to get a berth or wild card or whatever it is. Every game you’ve got to play like it’s your last one."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was sent home Saturday from the team’s complex because he suffered from what head coach John Fox called "flu-like symptoms."

Sanders
Sanders did not participate in the team’s practice and was officially listed as questionable for Monday night’s game against the Bengals. However, Fox said Sanders will make the Sunday afternoon trip to Cincinnati with the Broncos and is expected to play in the game.

Sanders is the team’s second-leading receiver with 89 catches and 1,261 yards.

Quarterback Peyton Manning was limited in Saturday’s practice because of a right thigh injury he suffered in this past weekend's win against San Diego, and also listed as questionable. However, Manning, too, is expected to start. He threw in drills during the workout after participating in the team’s walk-through.

Other than when he missed the 2011 season following spinal-fusion surgery, Manning has not missed a start in his 16 other NFL seasons. Asked about Manning’s workload in Saturday’s practice, Fox said:

"(It was) fairly normal to the rest of the season ... He looked good in practice."

Manning also participated in the walk-through and threw in individual drills Friday. On Thursday, Manning participated in the Broncos’ walk-through, went through the team stretch and then went back into the Broncos’ complex to get treatment.

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms after getting four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

Manning stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half before Manning played the entire second half.

Also Saturday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) did not practice and will not play Monday night. Marshall is the Broncos’ leading tackler.

Running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) were also limited in Saturday’s practice and officially listed as questionable for the game. Clady is expected to start at left tackle, and Thompson and Hillman are expected to be available to play.

Hillman has not played since he suffered his injury Nov. 9 against the Oakland Raiders.

Center Will Montgomery (knee) and tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) participated fully Saturday and will play. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), Anderson (left ankle), and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) all took part fully in Saturday’s practice as well and will play.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was officially listed as limited in Friday’s practice because of a right thigh injury, but Manning threw more than he did in Thursday’s practice as the Broncos close in on Monday night’s game in Cincinnati.

Manning participated in the walk-through and threw in individual drills Friday and is still on track to start against the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium. Other than when he missed the 2011 season because of spinal-fusion surgery Manning has not missed a start in his 16 other NFL seasons.

Thursday Manning participated in the Broncos’ walk-through, went through the team stretch and then went back into the Broncos’ complex to get treatment on his leg. Friday he remained in the field for practice, throwing throughout the portion open for viewing.

“He’s improving, I thought he had good work out there [Friday],’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox, following Friday’s practice.

Manning, who played last Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms after getting four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined, injured his thigh on a rollout with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the first half.

He stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but gave way to Brock Osweiler, who finished out the first half. Manning went on to play the entire second half.

Also Thursday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot) and tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) did not practice.

Running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee), who was held out of Thursday’s practice, took part in Friday’s on a limited basis. Also limited were running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), center Will Montgomery (knee) and cornerback Kayvon Webster.

Tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs), who had been limited in Thursday’s practice, was a full participant in Friday’s practice. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle), Anderson (left ankle) and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) all took part fully in Friday’s practice.
video
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When defensive tackle Terrance Knighton offered his quasi-promise -- his "we won't be satisfied" belief -- that the Denver Broncos would win the Super Bowl, it raised the expected hackles in the social media world.

It certainly got the expected venom from the New England Patriots' faithful, some of it directed toward Knighton himself, who saw their team defeat the Broncos 43-21, on Nov. 2 in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

It even drew the "we'll do our talking on the field" quote from Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The one place it hasn't registered all that much on the football Richter scale is in the Broncos' locker room.

"[Knighton] is a grown man, [Coach John Fox] talked to him a little bit, I guess, talked to the team a little bit," said cornerback Aqib Talib, who played just under two seasons in New England before he signed with the Broncos this past March. " ... If that's how he was feeling when the question was asked, that's how he was feeling when the question was asked ... everybody in the league, it ain't no secret, he just said it, but everybody in the league is thinking it. He was just the one who said it. It ain't no big deal to us."

"I think Terrance has got a lot of confidence, I think that's a good quality about him," said quarterback Peyton Manning.

Following Sunday's win over the San Diego Chargers that clinched Denver's fourth consecutive AFC West title, Knighton was asked about the team's postseason potential. He then told Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla:
It doesn't matter what happens. At the end of the year, we're hoisting that trophy. I don't care if New England doesn't lose again. I don't care where we have to play. I don't care who our opponent is. We're not going to be satisfied until we hoist that trophy. So if we've got to go to New England [in the playoffs] and win somewhere we're not used to winning, we're going to make it happen. Write that. And put a big period after that one.

Following Thursday's practice Fox, much like he did earlier in the week, chose to simply deflect Super Bowl talk. The Broncos, from John Elway on down, have said since the start of the offseason program they wanted another shot at the title game after the blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII last February.

Many players have said anything less than a Super Bowl win this time around would be a major disappointment. A theme many Broncos players believe has been expressed in many other NFL outposts, so Knighton's teammates haven't seen what much of the fuss is about.

Fox simply deflected away from the topic following Thursday's practice with: "I think there is no doubt we've had a lot of goals this season and right now our goal is to focus on Cincinnati."

And Knighton? Well, he's treated this like he does run defense much of the time, as in he has dug in and is not being pushed off his spot. After practice Thursday, Knighton, a Connecticut native who has repeatedly said he was a Patriots fan growing up and that many of his family members are still Patriots' fans, was still feeling good about the Broncos' chances.

"I feel like our defense right now is playing the best of any defense right now in the NFL," Knighton said. "And we want to carry this team to a Super Bowl victory. I stand by what I said, I don't care who we play, where we play, put the ball down and we're going to come out with a victory."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning participated in Thursday's practice on a limited basis, then left the field for the bulk of the main practice in order to get some treatment on a right thigh injury he suffered late in the first half of Sunday’s victory over the San Diego Chargers.

Manning took part in the team’s walk-through and team stretch, then returned to the locker room once the main practice began. After taking most Wednesdays off in the second half of the 2013 season, this was the first time Manning had left the practice field this season.

Manning
The 38-year-old is expected to practice Friday and was walking without a limp when he left the field to go to the locker room as well as following practice. Because the Broncos play on Monday night in Cincinnati, the players did not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday, so Thursday’s practice mirrored what the team would have normally done on a Wednesday.

“He’s day-to-day," said Broncos head coach John Fox, who is routinely reticent on any injury. “Tomorrow’s a new day, we’ll keep you posted."

Manning, who played Sunday’s game with flu-like symptoms and received four IVs on Saturday night and Sunday morning, injured his thigh when he rolled out right to throw a 12-yard completion to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

He stayed in the game for the next eight plays, but left the field following a C.J. Anderson run for no gain on a third-and-goal from the Chargers’ 1-yard line. Brock Osweiler finished out the first half; Manning played the entire second half.

“I feel OK," Manning said following practice. Asked if he would be ready to play Monday night, Manning said; “I certainly hope so."

Manning also said after practice that his illness was behind him and he was simply receiving treatment on his leg at the moment to go with his usual work with the strength and conditioning staff, which Manning does each week to prepare for games since he returned from spinal fusion surgery that kept him out the entire 2011 season. And because he's always ready with a quip, Manning gave a nod to New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick when Manning answered a smattering of questions with "we're on the Cincinnati."

Also Thursday, linebacker Brandon Marshall (left foot), tackle Paul Cornick (toe on right foot) and running back Juwan Thompson (hip, knee) were also held out of practice.

Running back Ronnie Hillman (left foot), who has missed the last five games, took part on a limited basis Thursday as the Broncos continue to hope he will soon be ready for some situational work in the offense.

Left tackle Ryan Clady (right thigh), center Will Montgomery (knee), tight end Jacob Tamme (ribs) and cornerback Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) all participated Thursday on a limited basis. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (right ankle) and tight end Julius Thomas (left ankle) took part fully in the practice.

Broncos did right thing re-signing Chris Harris Jr.

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
10:00
AM ET
video
ESPN Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold talks about the five-year extension signed by defensive back Chris Harris Jr. and why it makes sense for both sides.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Once again the Denver Broncos have won the AFC West -- that’s four consecutive years now. Once again, some high-profile free agents have had leading roles in that, players like quarterback Peyton Manning, defensive end DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward.

But then again, stare a little more at the depth chart and the benefits of finding those who fit, those who, as John Elway puts it, “know and understand the culture we want with the Denver Broncos" become clear.

[+] EnlargeCJ Anderson
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelC.J. Anderson has sparked Denver's running game, averaging nearly 100 yards in the past six weeks.
The Broncos' leading rusher, C.J. Anderson, is a player who arrived as an undrafted rookie in 2013. The current starting middle linebacker, Steven Johnson, arrived as an undrafted rookie in 2012.

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who just signed a five-year, $42.5 million extension to stay with the team, is among the league’s elite at his position and he arrived as an undrafted rookie in 2011. All are examples of the ability to not only draft depth and impact in the salary-cap era, but to add to that when the draft has concluded each year, as well.

It was something Elway addressed when offering that Harris was one of their top targets among the list of impending free agents.

“It’s the same old adage that we say every year is that it doesn’t matter where you’re drafted or how you get here," Elway said. “The bottom line is -- hopefully we can coach them -- but the bottom line is it comes from the player. It comes from the player from inside out and what he can do as a player."

And Johnson, Anderson and Harris all flashed that inner fire when they arrived, not so much wide-eyed, but full of hope and confidence. Elway said he could see in the first two days of Harris' first training camp -- it was Elway’s first training camp as the team’s top football decision-maker -- the cornerback had designs on making the roster.

“I can still remember the first time we took the field, and the first two practices, he stood out," Elway said. “And I said, ‘We have something here.'"

“You see football awareness, football character -- just the awareness more than anything regardless of what position," Broncos head coach John Fox said. “You see that very quickly, I think, as a football coach and you can definitely identify that with [Harris] immediately. You can’t define whether a guy is going to be a two-year starter or a Hall of Famer but you know he belongs. They are wired right and you could see that early on with Chris."

For his part Johnson made an immediate impact on special teams and always seems to be hovering near defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio or Fox to repeatedly tell them he’s ready to go into a game if they need him. So much so Del Rio has joked that “I never have to go looking for Stevie, he’s always right there."

“I just want to let them know I’m ready," Johnson said. “That they can trust me, that I stayed in the playbook and I’m ready to go."

For Anderson, who was in danger of losing his roster spot in minicamp because he had gained some weight and looked a little sluggish in some of the workouts, it was a matter of earning Manning’s trust, to be assignment reliable.

And after injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, Anderson has provided the boost in the run game the Broncos were looking for down the stretch. He’s rushed for 597 yards in the past six games, or 87.9 percent of his season total (679), and is looking to hang on to the top spot on the depth chart moving forward.

In all, the Broncos have kept at least one undrafted rookie coming out of training camp, when the rosters go to 53 players, for 11 consecutive years.

“[The Broncos] have shown they will play undrafted guys if they end up being the best guys," Anderson said. “As a player you just want a chance, an opportunity. If you do the work, know your assignments and get results, they will play you."

“When I got here, in my first camp, Champ [Bailey] told me it didn’t matter if I was drafted or not. If I played, did it right, the Broncos would put me in," Harris said. “That’s how it should be."

QB snapshot: Peyton Manning

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
1:00
PM ET
A quick observation of quarterback Peyton Manning and how he played in the Broncos’ 22-10 victory in Week 15:

Manning
For the second game in a row Manning was 14-of-20 passing in a Broncos win, this time for 233 yards and a touchdown against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

In the last three Broncos wins Manning has completed 17, 14 and 14 passes as the team has tried to balance out the offense a little bit with the postseason approaching. Sunday, Manning was also ill, having had, he said, four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined just to try to play against the Chargers.

So things were a bit of a struggle for him, as well as a thigh injury just before halftime he attributed to being dehydrated. In the end, the Broncos might have thrown a little more on a postcard kind of day if Manning had felt a little better.

But overall there is a reason his completion totals of late have raised some eyebrows around the league, as the Broncos have tried to adjust to defenses doing everything possible to take away the middle of the field.

Denver is trying to give Manning more options. But his 28 combined completions in Weeks 14 and 15 mark Manning's lowest total in consecutive games he has started and finished since Weeks 12 (15) and 13 (13) in 2005. His recent three-game total of 45 completions is the lowest of his career (in games he started and finished); Manning's previous low was 50 in 1998 -- his rookie season.

As Manning said, he’s "comfortable with winning," however the Broncos do it. This recent trend also indicates defenses are going to have to adjust by moving a player or two out of coverage. That’s when the Broncos believe they will be ready to crank things up in the passing game once again.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In many ways John Elway hopes Chris Harris Jr. is the first domino, the one that knocks over a few more.

As the Denver Broncos' chief football decision-maker, Elway will face plenty of decisions in the coming offseason, with a list of impending free agents that features many of the team's highest-profile players.

"Yeah, we have a bunch of guys coming up, and so we're hoping that we can get everybody," Elway said. "It's never going to be easy, but Chris was the target to start with and we were thankful to get that done, so we hope that we can continue to do that and keep this team together."

[+] EnlargeCHris Harris
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesChris Harris is signed, but John Elway will face plenty of decisions in the coming offseason, with a list of impending free agents that features many of the Broncos' stars.
Harris Jr., who signed a five-year extension worth $42.5 million, was signed because he wanted to sign. Harris Jr. said he didn't want to wait until the offseason and when negotiations stalled a bit in recent weeks, Elway got a little more involved as the two sides found some common ground.

But Harris Jr., who first made the Broncos as an undrafted rookie in 2011, is just one of many free agents who will be part of several negotiations in the coming months, after whatever becomes of this season. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, tight end Julius Thomas, guard Orlando Franklin, safety Rahim Moore, wide receiver Wes Welker and defensive tackle Terrance Knighton are among the Broncos' regulars who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents.

The Broncos made a five-year offer to Demaryius Thomas this past summer, but the two sides could not close the gap. A gap that hasn't gotten any smaller given Demaryius Thomas is second in the league in receptions (96), third in receiving yards and tied for fourth in touchdown receptions (11).

The Broncos also have a franchise player tag available with Demaryius Thomas or Julius Thomas being the most likely candidates. The Broncos are expected to expend far more energy trying to re-sign their own free agents this offseason as Elway continues to pursue a "homegrown" agenda with the roster.

So, while last offseason's spending spree was designed to re-vamp the defense by bringing in players from elsewhere, like DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward, the Broncos will look at their own depth chart this time around when it comes to divvying up their free agency dollars.

"That's key because we've obviously had a lot of success over the last four years," Elway said. "When you win four division titles, you've had a lot of success, and as soon as you've had that success, it means you've got a lot of real good football players on your team. So that's the battle is to continue to do that. We've got to continue to draft well. We've got to continue to retain the guys that we can retain that give us the opportunity to continue to win like this. I didn't get in here to win part of the time. I want to win all the time. And I think the mentality of the type of guys we have, they have the same mentality. So when you're good, it's tough, but we're going to continue to try to be as good as we can and continue to draft well and try to keep as many as we can, and Chris is a start for us."

Harris Jr. said Monday he believed he could have likely gotten a bigger contract elsewhere, but that he had decided he wanted to stay with the Broncos, saying "this is just where I wanted to be, it was my goal and I'm happy it worked out. I'm happy with the whole thing."

Of the Broncos' most prominent free agents, only Knighton and Welker were not draft picks by the team. But Knighton, in particular, has become an important locker-room voice despite signing a two-year deal in 2013.

Knighton is a team captain and came to the Broncos after four seasons in Jacksonville when the Jaguars finished 7-9, 8-8, 5-11 and 2-14 without a playoff appearance.

"I talk to a lot of guys and I told Chris, just coming where I came from, the grass is not greener on the other side," Knighton said. "And sometimes it means a lot more to be in a winning organization and making money than being in a losing organization and making money and playing for two years and thinking you're gone or you're going somewhere else. So he'll be a Bronco for the rest of his life, and that's good. Sometimes winning overshadows how much money you make. Because I'm pretty sure there are guys that wish they were on winning teams that would sacrifice a few million dollars to be in the position we're in … Absolutely. I don't want to leave. I want to be here. But I've been in the position before and I know how it works. So you've got to do what's right for your family. But you've also got to do what's right for your career."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Almost as soon as Chris Harris Jr. said Friday night that he was “ecstatic’’ at his newly-minted five-year contract with the Denver Broncos, the hills and the Twitter-verse, were alive with criticisms that he and his representatives could have done better if Harris had simply waited and gone into the open market at the end of the season.

And Monday, with Harris' wife Leah and daughter Aria on hand, there was a rather significant voice of agreement on that -- one Chris Harris Jr.

[+] EnlargeChris Harris Jr.
AP Photo/Jack DempseyChris Harris Jr. has gone from undrafted rookie to one of the Broncos' key defenders.
“Oh yeah, I definitely could have gotten more off the open market [laughing],’’ Harris said. “I know that, we all know that, but it’s not all about money at the end of the day. It’s about being happy, and I’m satisfied. I’m happy being here. I’m not too big on just getting top-corner money or whatever. I was just focusing on being here and being able to get somewhere in the market of what my play is.’’

In short, when Harris signed a five-year extension worth $42.5 million, he did it with the same thinking he had when he made the Broncos’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 2011 and became one of the league’s elite at the position, at least in the eyes of personnel executives around the NFL. Forget the fact that Harris' peers have not voted him to a Pro Bowl.

“Before we started talking, I told my agent [Fred Lyles], ‘Please get the deal done here,'’’ Harris said. “This is where my family’s happy, this is where I’m happy. And so that’s always where I wanted to be. I love the organization; I love the people around here. They’ve helped me get to this point and I just want to stay here.’’

Harris' deal includes $24 million in guaranteed money, including a $10 million signing bonus -- he received half of the bonus when he signed the deal and will receive the other half next March.

“He’s the type of Denver Bronco that we want, because of what he does, how he plays, how he attacks the field and his competitive nature when he plays,’’ Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. “But also, his giving back to the community. So he represents us tremendously both on and off the field, and that’s important. It’s important to this organization. It’s important to these fans. And having been here for as long as I have, I know it’s important to him and he represents all of that.’’

The Broncos matched Harris on Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen Sunday, at least until Allen left the game with an ankle injury. To that point had just three catches for 18 yards.

It was Harris' first game since signing the new deal and he said it felt differently with the negotiations completed. The two sides, Harris said, started talking in earnest following the Nov. 2 game in New England.

“Sunday, I felt like that cloud over my head was gone,’’ he said. “I could just play football and I just let it go. Playing yesterday was probably one of the best feelings, just going out there, just playing free and I look forward to just continuing to play with a clear mind like I did yesterday for the rest of the season.’’
video
SAN DIEGO -- One moment, Denver Broncos backup quarterback Brock Osweiler was warming up as halftime drew to a close, thinking the team’s chances to earn a fourth consecutive AFC West title would be in his hands.

And the next …

“I was throwing and I just heard this big roar," Osweiler said. “I didn’t even have to turn my head. I knew what it was."

It was Peyton Manning, jogging out of the tunnel from the visitors’ locker room in Qualcomm Stadium. Coach John Fox called a "cavalry entrance" to start the second half and close out a 22-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday. The victory moved the Broncos to 11-3 and gave the team the division title and the playoff spot that comes with it.

Despite being in his 17th season and 254th regular-season game, Sunday brought a new experience for Manning -- an IV. Or rather, several IVs. Manning said flu-like symptoms arose Saturday night and resulted in "four IVs" in roughly a 17-hour span in order to play against the Chargers.

“I’m even not sure I’ve ever had to have one, 17 years, so it was a new experience last night," Manning said. “One I would prefer not to have again."

Asked if he thought when he woke up Sunday morning he would be able to play, Manning said: "[Saturday] night was pretty miserable. It crossed my mind a couple times in a couple of those trips last night [that he would not be able to]."

Manning also suffered a thigh injury -- an injury he attributed to being dehydrated -- on an 8-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders just before halftime. Manning was in enough pain that after a third-and-goal run for C.J. Anderson, Manning jogged immediately up the tunnel to the Broncos' locker room with 1 minute, 53 seconds to play in the first half.

“Obviously I was in some discomfort," Manning said. “Thought I got a little relief at halftime."

Yes, had Manning stayed in the locker room at halftime and Osweiler had been behind center in a game that mattered, things might have gone differently. Though John Elway, John Fox and even Manning have said they believe in Osweiler’s progress, he is still an unanswered question.

But Sunday, although Manning was able to play through illness and injury, other Broncos were not. Several players who figure prominently on the depth chart left the game. And an offseason spent trying to make a Super Bowl team better, deeper and more able to overcome the battle of attrition, paid dividends.

Left tackle Ryan Clady left the game in the first quarter with a right thigh injury and did not return. Linebacker Brandon Marshall, the team’s leading tackler, left in the second quarter and did not return. And the guy who was filling in for Marshall, Danny Trevathan, who was playing in his first game since Oct. 12, left in the fourth quarter with a leg injury.

“But we’ve got guys who can step up," Sanders said. “And they stepped up, way up."

So much so that Todd Davis, who the Broncos claimed off waivers in November from the New Orleans Saints, was the team's every-down linebacker to close out the game for a defense that surrendered 288 yards and one touchdown. Chris Clark, who was benched earlier this season as the right tackle and has been a game-day inactive for the previous three games, filled in for Clady at left tackle.

“Think it says a lot, think it says we’ve got a good football team," Manning said. "And that we can win different ways."

So, here they are, style-points packed away for the moment, with a four-game winning streak since the sensibility-shaking loss in St. Louis last month. Four games when Manning has thrown three touchdown passes combined and the Broncos have had 148 rushing attempts -- an average of 37 per game.

So, fourth division title in hand, the Broncos are still one of the league's heavyweights. While this might not be the Broncos team many expected it to be, it is the team that's where it wants to be.
SAN DIEGO -- A few weeks ago Connor Barth was just another guy hoping for another NFL chance.

He was a kicker in search of a team who wanted him to kick, and the numbers at the position can make that a frustrating process without much optimism along for the ride.

Barth
“Odds are against you in that teams have just one guy kicking field goals, one field-goal kicker, one punter," Barth said. “That doesn’t always leave a lot of opportunity."

In search of some more consistency, a little veteran savvy, the Denver Broncos signed Barth to close out November. Barth has now kicked in three games for the Broncos, including Sunday’s 22-10 win over the San Diego Chargers, and he’s 11-for-11 on field goal attempts.

He has now tied a franchise record -- twice -- with five field goals in the Broncos' Nov. 30 win over the Kansas City Chiefs to go with the five field goals he made Sunday against the Chargers.

“Just take that one kick, live in that moment every time ... and hopefully you make it every time," Barth said. “It’s just an awesome opportunity to be with a team that’s such a great organization. I don’t know if I’ve ever won three straight games, going back to high school. Just to be able to help out a team like this one is such a great opportunity."

The Broncos signed Barth to replace Brandon McManus, who had missed four field goals over the course of the Broncos’ first 10 games. McManus was waived when Barth was signed and has since been re-signed to handle kickoffs.

But Barth has been just what the Broncos hoped he could be and possibly more as they won their fourth consecutive AFC West title Sunday. He made kicks of 19, 26, 19, 49 and 44 yards against the Chargers, including both of his attempts in the fourth quarter as the Broncos pushed their lead from 16-10 to 22-10.

“Anything I can do the help us," Barth said. “A chance at the playoffs, a division title, a winning streak, all things I’ve never experienced. Everyone here has embraced me, taken me in."

Barth missed the 2013 season after he suffered a torn right Achilles tendon in an offseason charity basketball game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers released him this past summer as the preseason drew to a close. Barth had a workout with the Detroit Lions, but was just trying to stay in shape, often “just kicking at poles somewhere if I couldn’t get where there were uprights" until the Broncos called.

“I just go out there do my job ... make my kicks," Barth said. "I love being part of a team like this.’’
SAN DIEGO -- It was close, as in rough night, bad morning, caught some kind of renegade germ close.

But Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said following the team’s 22-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium, that he had to think long and hard about playing on Sunday.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
AP Photo/Denis PoroyPeyton Manning made his 46th straight start for the Broncos despite falling ill on Saturday night.
"I had a rough night, I’m not gonna lie," Manning said. "It was not an enjoyable night. I don’t know what happened, it just kind of came out of nowhere. ... Obviously, you can play just to play, to be out there to start.

“I take a pretty honest assessment of myself, can I perform? Am I going to hurt the team? I have zero selfishness when it comes to I have to be out there. ... I was counting on [offensive coordinator Adam] Gase, [head coach John] Fox to look at me, evaluate me, kind of tell me what they thought as well."

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said the Broncos knew it was something out of the ordinary when Manning did not attend the usual night-before-game meetings at the team’s downtown hotel. Manning said he was meeting with Gase, about 6:30 p.m. locally, when he began to feel ill and his condition worsened as the night wore on.

Manning said between Saturday night and Sunday before the game he had four IVs. But Manning said he became dehydrated in the first half and attributed that to a thigh injury he suffered before halftime. The quarterback felt enough discomfort that he went to the locker room with just under two minutes remaining in the half.

Brock Osweiler played the Broncos’ last four snaps of the half. Osweiler said he was told to warm up after halftime as if he would play in the second half, but Manning came jogging out of the tunnel, helmet on, and played the rest of the way.

"Adam was kind of evaluating me this morning, how I looked, how I felt," Manning said. "I kind of thought I would feel better throughout the day. Then my leg injury wasn’t really part of the plan. I have to believe it was related to the symptoms last night, being dehydrated, if I had to guess."

Other than the 2011 season, when he missed every game following his fourth neck surgery, Manning has never missed a start. Sunday was his 254th career regular-season start, including his 46th consecutive since signing with the Broncos in 2012. His teammates will tell you that streak looked in jeopardy before kickoff.

"We knew it wasn’t just something small," Sanders said. "It wasn’t like him, how he was before the game."

Manning still kept his sense of humor when asked if he believed in flu shots.

"I had one this year -- Broncos supply those for no charge, I think," Manning said. "I believe in them."
SAN DIEGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Denver Broncos' 22-10 victory against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium:
  • The Broncos medical staff will be busy evaluating players Monday. Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who is the team’s leading tackler, left the stadium wearing a walking boot on his left foot. Left tackle Ryan Clady left the game with a right thigh injury in the first quarter and did not return, and Danny Trevathan left with a leg injury in the fourth quarter and did not return.
  • Thomas
    Thomas
    Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who had his right ankle stepped on during practice two weeks ago, was also limping slightly following the game and may be held out of practice in the coming week. The Broncos will have an additional day off this week since they don’t play until Monday night. The team is not expected to practice Tuesday or Wednesday. With 123 yards on his six catches, Thomas had his eighth 100-yard receiving game of the season. Rod Smith is the only other player in franchise history to have eight 100-yard games in a season.
  • Sunday’s game was certainly a slug-it-out affair with touchdowns hard to come by. After the game Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware said: “That was an old-school game right there -- rugged. And it showed something that we came in here and won that kind of game."
  • The win meant the Broncos have won four consecutive AFC West titles, but beyond the guaranteed playoff spot that comes with it, there wasn’t much of a celebration. John Elway presented coach John Fox with the game ball and the Broncos were quick to turn their attention to bigger things. Emmanuel Sanders said: “Our ultimate goal is to win a world championship. When Elway put together this team it was to win a world championship."

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

December, 14, 2014
Dec 14
7:20
PM ET

SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts from the Denver Broncos' 22-10 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Qualcomm Stadium.

What it means: For the first time in franchise history, the Broncos have won four consecutive AFC West titles. The victory also clinched the playoff spot that comes with the division title and keeps the Broncos, at 11-3, on the inside track for a playoff bye. The victory also gives the Broncos season sweeps over the Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs. The Broncos have just one AFC West game remaining, against the Oakland Raiders, in Denver in the regular-season finale.

Stock watch: The Broncos continue to show they have the patience to play a run-first game and C.J. Anderson continues to show he has the mentality and physical strength to be the lug-it guy. Anderson, who missed some practice time this past week because of a left ankle injury, didn’t have any double-take runs against the Chargers' defense. Bu with quarterback Peyton Manning feeling ill before the game and leaving the lineup late in the first half because of a thigh injury, Anderson continued to grind away on a day when the Broncos needed him to grind away.

Depth tested on defense: Just when the Broncos thought they would finally have their defense back at full strength with Danny Trevathan back in the lineup, their depth chart was tested again. Linebacker Brandon Marshall, the Broncos' leading tackler, left the game late in the first half with a foot injury and did not return. That put Trevathan, who was playing in his first game since the Broncos’ victory against the New York Jets in October, back in the base defense. The Broncos had hoped to play Trevathan in the specialty packages in his first game back. Todd Davis, a player the Broncos claimed off waivers last month, was in both the base defense and the nickel after Marshall’s injury.

Game ball: With Manning not 100 percent physically, left tackle Ryan Clady out of the game with a thigh injury and the Chargers doing their best to slow the Broncos’ passing game, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas found a way to shake himself loose over and over again. By the time he scored on a 28-yard touchdown reception late in the third quarter, he had his eighth 100-yard game of the season, which tied him with Rod Smith for the most 100-yard games in a season in franchise history.

What’s next: The Broncos find themselves tied with the New England Patriots with an 11-3 record, but a game behind the Patriots in the race for home-field advantage because of a head-to-head loss on Nov. 2. So a trip to face the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 22 in the "Monday Night Football" finale could be a must-win for the Broncos to have a chance at home-field advantage or a postseason bye week.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC WEST SCOREBOARD