|12-31-2006, 12:53 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2006
With blizzard on way, Broncos eye playoffs
Denver could focus on rushing game vs. San Francisco in poor weather
DENVER - With another blizzard bearing down on the Rocky Mountains, the Denver Broncos’ pivotal regular-season finale against San Francisco on Sunday will in all likelihood come down to the run game.
Both teams are well-equipped to carry the load through the ice and snow — even if it’s going to be difficult for teams and fans alike to get to Invesco Field through the mushy mess.
The Niners (6-9), whose playoff hopes were snuffed last week, have Frank Gore, the NFC’s starting Pro Bowl running back who leads the conference with 1,542 yards and needs just 29 yards to break Garrison Hearst’s single-season franchise rushing record.
Gore also is just 111 yards shy of breaking Hearst’s single-season record of 2,105 total yards from scrimmage, also set in 1998. Though the 49ers are headed to their fourth straight losing season, coach Mike Nolan plans to make sure Gore has every chance to claim both records.
“Whatever the top of the meter would be, I’d like to see him do that, not only for the offensive line, but for the whole team,” Nolan said.
The Broncos (9-6), who can reach the playoffs for a franchise-record fourth consecutive year, counter with the Bells, Tatum and Mike, each seeking to make a little history of their own.
Tatum Bell is 23 yards shy of becoming the sixth running back in Mike Shanahan’s tenure to top 1,000 yards, although he’s struggled the last two weeks, committing costly fumbles that led to touchdowns and limited his second-half carries.
In came Mike Bell, whose eight touchdowns are one shy of the NFL mark for an undrafted rookie set by Dominic Rhodes for Indianapolis in 2001.
Although Shanahan gave Tatum Bell a vote of confidence after last week’s game, he also turned to Mike Bell for the second straight time. The overlooked running back from Arizona responded by helping the Broncos beat the Cardinals and Bengals to set up a win-and-in playoff scenario Sunday.
The Broncos can also clinch a spot in the postseason if Kansas City loses to Jacksonville earlier in the afternoon.
Denver’s playoff push seemed unlikely after the Broncos lost four straight to fall to 7-6. But behind quarterback Jay Cutler and several other rookies, they’re right back in the thick of the wild-card chase.
Cutler is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw two TD passes in each of his first four games. Three of those have gone to rookie tight end Tony Scheffler and another to rookie receiver Brandon Marshall. Add in Elvis Dumervil’s team-leading eight sacks and Mike Bell’s eight TDs and the Broncos are getting a playoff push from the unlikeliest of sources.
“That’s what’s so important to our success right now, to have these guys step up at this point in the season,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “We know what to expect from the veterans, but from a rookie, you really don’t know what to expect. We know what kind of abilities they have, but there are a lot of rookies come in the game who have that, but they don’t show up.
“These guys are showing up, and they’re showing up at the right time.”
And just in the nick of time, too.
Cutler had a rough debut against Seattle, then improved in a loss to San Diego before playing really well the last two weeks, showing the poise and passes that made him the 11th pick in the draft.
“There are a lot of veterans on our team that know their job and do it well. For me to step in as a rookie in the middle of the playoff race and be expected to play at that level right away, it was tough,” Cutler said. “But those guys were always positive with me and they were confident and had my back. Whenever I messed up, a lot of the guys picked up the slack.”
While the Broncos envision preparing for the playoffs next week, the Niners promise not to start thinking about the offseason until their flight home.
Quarterback Alex Smith welcomes the chance to play a good team in bad weather because he figures the Niners will be doing that a lot in the playoffs in the not-to-distant future.
“The more experience this team gets at anything, whether it be bad weather, snow or altitude, it’s important to take advantage of it,” Smith said. “We owe it to ourselves to put as much effort forth as we have every Sunday. It’s always nice to take a good taste into the offseason. I get the feeling that we’ve started something here, and we need to finish it.”
Although the Niners will finish with a losing record, the Broncos insisted they weren’t looking at the game as a gimme.
“When it’s the last game of the year and you haven’t had that great of a season, it’s important to play well for the coaches to want to bring you back,” Broncos cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. “That’s a man who’s backed into a corner, who’s playing for his job.”
Last edited by dragondawg; 12-31-2006 at 12:57 AM..
|12-31-2006, 01:52 AM||#2|
Ring of Famer
Join Date: Sep 2004
No blizzard tomorrow. Sunny and 32. Field looks clear. Stands are a bit cold with some snow there. Bring a butt warming blanky and wear extra socks.