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Old 11-21-2009, 07:39 PM   #1
oubronco
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Default Broncos could be headed for another big slide

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. - If it were only as simple as saying Denver's collapse is all Mark Kriegel's fault.

I'm convinced that my esteemed, overly-caffeinated FOXSports.com colleague and mentor cursed the Broncos through his perpetual desire to bury the San Diego Chargers. For the third straight season and against my advice Kriegel prematurely wrote off the Boys in Powder Blue after last month's 34-23 home loss to Denver.
At the time, the Broncos stood at 6-0 and San Diego at 2-3. Kriegel opined that Denver had a future and the Chargers had none.


INSIDE THE CHARGERS Looking for more dirt on the Chargers? Get the inside slant, stats, scores, schedules and more scoops right here.
Talk about off-the-Mark. His crystal ball was almost as murky as when I made Detroit a 2008 preseason pick to make the playoffs and projected Pittsburgh as the NFL's most disappointing team (yikes!).

Since that Monday night contest, Denver hasn't won a game and San Diego hasn't lost. The two 6-3 squads meet Sunday in Denver for the AFC West lead.

Umm, Kriegs?

"I remember I started out wanting to heap praise on Denver in my column," said Kriegel, his heavy Noo Yawk accent resonating through my cell phone Friday morning. "But when I saw all of these people hanging off the railing singing, 'Norv (Turner) must go!' I couldn't resist. As usual, negativity got the best of me."

It's enshrouding the Broncos, too.

Last year, Denver suffered the biggest late-season breakdown since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 when losing its final three games. That allowed a Chargers team again left for dead by its critics Kriegel included to become the first 4-8 squad to ever rebound and win a division.

The 2009 Broncos may be en route to making history once again and not in a good way. No club has ever led a division by 3.5 games and failed to win it. If a three-game losing streak doesn't end Sunday, another black mark in the record books could await at season's end.

"This is a game where we have to stop the bleeding and get back to winning," Broncos defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said before Friday's practice.

Holliday and other Broncos say their wounds are self-inflicted. The style of play that led Denver to such a surprising start deteriorated in double-digit losses to Baltimore, Pittsburgh and lowly Washington. The Kyle Orton-led offense sputtered without enough deep passing plays or consistent rushing success. The defense became a mess, particularly against the run, as players failed to follow assignments and maintain gap integrity. What was a strong second-half team became just the opposite, getting blown out by a combined score of 58-14.


INSIDE THE BRONCOS Looking for more dirt on the Broncos? Get the inside slant, stats, scores, schedules and more scoops right here.
"We got away from what we were doing, which was fundamental, complementary, team football," Broncos cornerback Andre' Goodman said. "We got off to this great start and started feeling that we were this great team all of a sudden. That wasn't how we got to 6-0. We were feeling ourselves too much. We've got to get back to basics."

Pro Bowl center Casey Wiegmann said: "We're not playing as a team more than anything. Guys started doing individual-type stuff. We're trying to get that broken up and get back into the team philosophy."

It has become cliche for players league-wide to say the bye week comes at a good time for one reason or the other. According to Holliday, the timing of Denver's break in Week 7 after the first Chargers win couldn't have been worse.

"We didn't come back with that same fire and attention to detail," Holliday said. "You hate to say it, but you know the old saying, 'You drink the Kool-Aid?' We got full of it.

"When you look at our roster, we don't have all the Pro Bowl players. We're not the Dallas Cowboys, where they say they have all the talent. We're just a group of hard-working, blue-collar guys who work together to get it done. When we win games, that's the way it's going to be. For the past three weeks, we have not done that."





Maybe this is who the Broncos really are a rebuilding franchise not expected to accomplish much that is now crashing back to Earth. In fact, Denver has already overachieved. A tumultuous 2009 has included the hiring of a new coach (youngster Josh McDaniels), the trade of a star quarterback (Jay Cutler) and preseason suspension of a Pro Bowl wide receiver (Brandon Marshall). In August, the thought of Denver standing at 6-3 with a chance to play San Diego for first place in the division was unfathomable except for the most optimistic of Broncos fans.

"I don't think people expected much out of us," said Goodman, one of a whopping 32 new players on the Broncos roster. "We surprised everybody coming out of the gate. The last three weeks, we have become what everybody thought we were going to be in the beginning.

"I don't think the mind-set in this locker room has changed at all, though. We can be a good team that can compete with anybody when we do the small things the right way."

To stop the streaking Chargers, Denver will need that attention to detail and solid play from whoever is under center. Orton (ankle) hasn't practiced this week and seems likely to be replaced by backup Chris Simms, who was awful in relief duty during Sunday's 27-17 loss to Washington.

Should the Chargers win, many of those who had hopped on the Broncos bandwagon will be switching their allegiances to San Diego. Kriegel, though, won't be one of them. When it comes to the Chargers, Kriegel is going to keep swinging and zinging.

"Let's not give San Diego too much credit," he said. "I don't want to throw my support until things play out with Tila Tequila."
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