Broncos not perfect but in first place

By EDDIE PELLS - AP National Writer
    2013-11-18 17:58

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - John Fox made an appearance on the big screen at Broncos headquarters.

Then, he went back to his living room and let the interim coach, Jack Del Rio, dissect the good and bad from Denver's latest victory.

The Broncos head coach, recovering from heart surgery back home in North Carolina, met with the team for about 10 minutes on a video chat Monday in what Del Rio described as a lively pick-me-up for the Broncos, who have been without their coach since early this month.

''He banged on his chest and said, `I'm doing great,''' Del Rio said. ''He said he walked two miles today. Things like that. Just to see his face beaming, just so happy to be visiting with the guys - it was cool.''

Del Rio did as good a Fox impression as he could while discussing a 27-17 victory over Kansas City that pulled the Broncos to 9-1, tied for first in the AFC - saying there were lots of positives but enough negatives to keep the Broncos focused with New England and a rematch with Kansas City coming up.

-On the offensive line - maligned all last week - that kept Peyton Manning unsacked, unhit and virtually untouched: ''I feel very much like I did last week when I was defending them the whole time. And I'm not going to heap a bunch of praise on them.''

-On the running game that averaged only 2.9 yards a carry, as the Broncos tried to neutralize a hard-charging Chiefs pass rush: ''We want to run it better.''

-On the penalties - all 13 of them, four or five of which were of the unnecessary variety, in Del Rio's mind: ''There are some - I call them silly, focus-type issues. ... We want to have good judgment. ... There are some situations where we made some mistakes that can really haunt you.''

Of course, even with their imperfections, the Broncos were double-digit winners over an undefeated team that got its own share of credit for not getting steamrolled by an offense that scored two touchdowns less than its season average.

It was, as most of Denver's wins have been, a fortuitous blend of successes and failures - not bad enough to cause a loss, but certainly not a clean enough effort to breed complacency, which is good given the upcoming schedule.

''We knew when the schedule came out that these were going to be three critical games,'' Manning said after the game. ''We hoped they were going to be critical. We hoped they were going to matter because that meant we had taken care of business early in the season.''

They did, thanks in large part to Manning, who moved to 34 touchdown passes on the season - still well in range of breaking the single-season record held by Tom Brady, whom he'll face for the 14th time. Manning is still nursing his ankles back to full health.

They were shrouded in athletic tape and padding against the Chiefs. And though the offensive line didn't let anyone get a hand on him, Manning still threw 16 incompletions. That's the second most this season and can, at times, be a whole month's worth for a quarterback with a 118.3 passer rating this year. At least half of them were overthrown or underthrown footballs that were uncharacteristic - enough to re-raise the question: Is Manning still feeling jittery after all those blindside hits and dives at his ankles?

All the linemen can do is protect him the best they can. Their determination may have shown most when right tackle Orlando Franklin, clearly beaten by Derrick Johnson in the third quarter, chose to hook him with his right arm and draw the 10-yard holding penalty rather than let Manning fend for himself.

''Me and Orlando knew we had to go in and do what had to be done to protect Peyton,'' left tackle Chris Clark said.

Notes: The Broncos will break ground this week on their expansion project, which will include a 115,000-square-foot indoor practice facility. Since moving to their current headquarters, they have taken a short bus ride to practice in an open-to-the-public indoor bubble when the weather is bad. ... K Matt Prater became the last NFL kicker to miss a field goal attempt this season when he sailed a 52-yarder wide left. ... DL Malik Jackson had half a sack, two quarterback hits and two deflected passes.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org


Follow Eddie Pells on Twitter: http://twitter.com/epells

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