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Broncos vowing to avoid annual late-season swoon

    2012-11-23 13:35

(Eds: Adds details, quotes. With AP Photos.)
By ARNIE STAPLETON
AP Pro Football Writer

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Champ Bailey insists the script in Denver is finally going to flip this year.

For most of the last decade, the Broncos have made late-season swoons an annual rite of winter in the Rocky Mountains.

Altitude. Aptitude. Attitude. Whatever the reasons, the Broncos have followed strong starts with fading finishes. In the six seasons before this one, they were 23-34 in November, December and January.

It'll be different this season, vows Bailey, who points to a new strength and conditioning coach who uses cutting edge techniques and philosophies, and a new quarterback who won't allow anybody to let up.

The Broncos (7-3) can wrap up a 4-0 November with a win at Kansas City (1-9) on Sunday, and their December slate includes a rematch against the Chiefs and just one game - at Baltimore - in which they might be underdogs.

After a brutal early-season schedule when Peyton Manning was still finding his new bearings, the Broncos have built a three-game cushion in the AFC West on the strength of a five-game winning streak, and their remaining opponents are a combined 20-30.

A walk through the Broncos locker room, however, doesn't reveal any let-up, no sighs of relief or perilous swagger that was evident in other years following their AFC championship game appearance after the 2005 season.

The Broncos lost five of their last seven in 2006, four of their last six in `07, and Mike Shanahan was fired after they blew a three-game lead over San Diego with three weeks to go in `08.

Josh McDaniels' first team lost eight of its last 10 after a 6-0 start, missing the playoffs in 2009. He didn't even make it through the next season, getting fired in the midst of a franchise-worst 4-12 campaign that was marked by an embarrassing videotape scandal and six losses in their last seven games.

John Fox entered the fray last year, but after going 4-0 in November during the height of Tebowmania, the Broncos lost their last three games, backing into the playoffs at .500.

The Broncos also started strong and staggered down the stretch from 2001-04, so this nasty habit goes back a ways.

Bailey figures this group is better prepared both physically and mentally to handle the stretch run, and the two biggest reasons for this optimism are the arrivals of Manning, with his notorious high standards keeping everybody on point, and strength and conditioning coach Luke Richesson.

Richesson, 38, replaced longtime strength and conditioning coach Rich Tuten. He followed defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to Denver from Jacksonville, where he worked for three seasons after an eight-year stint as the performance team director at the renowned Athletes' Performance in Tempe, Ariz.

A former safety at Kansas and the husband of 1992 Olympic gold medal swimmer Anita Nall, Richesson uses new-fangled techniques in his training programs, including MMA drills during offseason workouts. His program focuses on flexibility, stretching and maintaining core strength, which the Broncos say have reduced pulled muscles and other soft-tissue injuries and which they believe will help them avoid late-season fatigue from all of their training at mile-high altitude.

``I think he's done a tremendous job,'' Fox said. ``I think the science of strength and conditioning, in particular in football, has changed quite a bit. It's differed over history from maybe some other sports, whether it be baseball or basketball. I think football is coming back to a little bit more of that style and that science.''

Fullback Chris Gronkowski, who has played in Dallas and Indianapolis, said he was surprised when he first worked out in Denver in the offseason because players stretched for half an hour before picking up a single weight.

Rather than trying to stretch out tight muscles in the cold weather, the Broncos also conduct their walkthroughs at the start of practice now and only after their blood is pumping 30 minutes later do they gather for stretching exercises.

The muscle pulls that dogged them in the past are fewer and farther between nowadays. They've had 100 percent participation in practice several times this month, almost unheard of for NFL teams once the leaves begin to fall.

``This is the healthiest team I've been on,'' Gronkowski said. ``Either we're getting lucky or this stuff is working.''

Bailey has become a big fan of Richesson's.

``His program is more structured. I think what we did in the past wasn't bad. It's just making sure everybody gets the right work done. We focus on that, so we know everybody's doing the same thing, straying strong,'' Bailey said. ``That's the main thing, just trying to be strong this time of the year. So, he really measures your strength to see how you are, if you're backing down or whatever.''

That's why Bailey said the usual late-season swoon isn't on the Colorado horizon this year.

``And it's a lot more mental than people say. It's not all physical,'' Bailey said. ``As the season goes on, you kind of get caught up in that routine, just forget how you got there, what it takes to get going, getting better. And I think now we've got a mentally strong team, so I don't see that happening.''

Helping form that mental tenacity is Manning, who is such a stickler for detail and efficient preparation that nobody dares slack off in practice or meetings, wide receiver Brandon Stokley said.

Bailey, Stokley and other veterans who have been through the fading finishes that ruined strong starts in Denver, such as Wesley Woodyard, D.J Williams and Elvis Dumervil, have another drill sergeant on their side now.

``Yeah, all the leaders have got to play a role in that because we've been here, done it,'' Bailey said. ``We've seen it go bad. Now, we're seeing it get better.''

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Julius ThomasNov 27 07:52p

Denver Broncos TE Julius Thomas (ankle) was limited during practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Anthony DavisNov 27 07:23p

The San Francisco 49ers have declared OT Anthony Davis, WR Bruce Ellington, DL Glenn Dorsey, QB Josh X. Johnson, WR Quinton Patton, CB Tramaine Brock, TE Vance McDonald inactive for Week 13.

Arian FosterNov 27 07:12p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) was limited during practice Wednesday, Nov. 27.

Allen BradfordNov 27 07:12p

The Seattle Seahawks have declared LB Allen Bradford, TE Cooper Helfet, CB Jeremy Lane, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, C Max Unger, TE Rashaun Allen, DL Travian Robertson inactive for Week 13.

Jordan CameronNov 27 06:32p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) was limited during practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Latavius MurrayNov 27 04:52p

Oakland Raiders RB Latavius Murray (concussion) was limited during practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Larry FitzgeraldNov 27 04:02p

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) did not participate in practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Tony HillsNov 27 03:22p

The Dallas Cowboys have declared LB Dekoda Watson, OG Donald Hawkins, QB Dustin Vaughan, FS Jeff Heath, DL Joshua Brent, OT Tony Hills, CB Tyler Patmon inactive for Week 13.

Taylor HartNov 27 03:12p

The Philadelphia Eagles have declared OT Dennis Kelly, DB Jaylen Watkins, WR Jeff Maehl, OG Julian Vandervelde, QB Nick Foles, CB Rashad Carmichael, DE Taylor Hart inactive for Week 13.

Jordan ReedNov 27 03:02p

Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (hamstring) was limited in practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Dwayne AllenNov 27 02:32p

Indianapolis Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle) did not participate in practice Thursday, Nov. 27.

Kyle FullerNov 27 11:32a

Chicago Bears CB Kyle Fuller (knee) will play in the team's Week 13 game against the Detroit Lions. Fuller had been questionable during the week.

Lance BriggsNov 27 11:22a

The Chicago Bears have declared WR Chris X. Williams, LB Darryl Sharpton, OT Eben Britton, DL Jeremiah Ratliff, LB Lance Briggs, CB Terrance Mitchell, DL Trevor Scott inactive for Week Week 13.

Reggie BushNov 27 11:12a

The Detroit Lions have declared QB Kellen Moore, OG Larry Warford, DE Larry Webster, DL Nick Fairley, RB Reggie Bush, OT Riley Reiff, WR Ryan Broyles inactive for Week 13.

Reggie BushNov 27 11:12a

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle) is inactive Thursday, Nov. 27, for Week 13.

Reggie BushNov 27 10:12a

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle) is out for Week 13 Thursday, Nov. 27. His ankle isn't responding well enough, but the hope is to return for Week 14.

R. Griffin IIINov 27 09:53a

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III is highly unlikely to return to the team next season, sources within the organization said. Head coach Jay Gruden convinced owner Daniel Snyder [ More ]

Jimmy StatenNov 26 09:43p

The Seattle Seahawks signed free-agent DT Jimmy Staten (Seahawks) to their practice squad Wednesday, Nov. 26. The team also released OT Andrew McDonald from their practice squad.

Marcus ThigpenNov 26 09:03p

The Buffalo Bills claimed WR Marcus Thigpen off waivers from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wednesday, Nov. 26. The team also waived DE Bryan Johnson.

Richard GordonNov 26 09:03p

The Tennessee Titans waived TE Richard Gordon Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Larry FitzgeraldNov 26 08:33p

Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Dwayne AllenNov 26 07:33p

Indianapolis Colts TE Dwayne Allen (ankle) did not participate in practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

C. PattersonNov 26 06:23p

Minnesota Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson (knee) did not practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Jerick McKinnonNov 26 06:13p

Minnesota Vikings RB Jerick McKinnon (back) did not practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Brandon LaFellNov 26 06:03p

New England Patriots WR Brandon LaFell (shoulder) was limited during practice Wednesday, Nov. 26.

Jace AmaroNov 26 05:13p

New York Jets TE Jace Amaro (head) is not expected to play in Week 13, because he is going through the concussion protocol.

Reggie BushNov 26 04:53p

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush (ankle, back) was limited in practice for the third straight day Wednesday, Nov. 26, and is questionable for Week 13 against the Chicago Bears.

Jordan CameronNov 26 04:43p

Cleveland Browns TE Jordan Cameron (concussion) remains day-to-day, but the team is looking for him to practice symptom-free this week, according to head coach Mike Pettine.

Jordan ReedNov 26 04:13p

Washington Redskins TE Jordan Reed (hamstring) was limited in practice Wednesday, Nov. 26, according to head coach Jay Gruden.

R. Griffin IIINov 26 02:53p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III needs more seasoning, and he'll likely do it from the bench for the rest of this season, according to head coach Jay Gruden. [ More ]

Arian FosterNov 26 02:33p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) has an excellent chance to return in Week 13 against the Tennessee Titans after missing the last two games.

Mark SanchezNov 26 02:23p

Philadelphia Eagles QB Mark Sanchez has thrown six interceptions this year, but all of them haven't been game-changing turnovers. In Week 12 against the Tennessee Titans, Sanchez thrived on [ More ]

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