Chargers close gap in AFC West on sliding Broncos
AP Sports Writer
DENVER, Colorado – Josh McDaniels had the Midas touch at the start of the season, his every move paying off as the Denver Broncos shocked the NFL with a 6-0 start.
Then, the first-year head coach started fiddling with his roster during the bye week.
So much for the age-old axiom – if it’s not broke …
The Broncos (6-2) have suddenly hit the skids since coming off a break, dropping their second straight with a 28-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Monday. Denver’s rushing attack was nonexistent against the Steelers, Kyle Orton threw three interceptions and a dependable defense wore down over the final quarter.
A once flourishing team is now floundering.
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Don’t look now, but the surging San Diego Chargers (5-3) are closing ground in a hurry in the AFC West. Denver’s once 31/2-game lead has been whittled to one.
“There is no panic here,” defensive back Andre’ Goodman said. “We just have to get back to the drawing board.”
Might more moves be on the horizon?
Before the Broncos lost their first game of the season against Baltimore, McDaniels made his first in-season roster move by releasing punter Brett Kern, who signed with the Tennessee Titans. Kern’s decent averages have been replaced by 16-year veteran Mitch Berger’s adventures as he’s alternated between shanks and short punts. Berger’s gross average (38.5) ranks at the bottom of the AFC.
Not that McDaniels is fretting over his punter’s inconsistency – at least not yet.
“We’ll take a look at the film and see if there is anything,” McDaniels said after the game. “I know there were a couple of short punts there. I know he did good things tonight, too.”
After Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco exploited some shortcomings in the secondary, McDaniels retooled the roster again. The Broncos brought in Pro Bowl cornerback Ty Law and let go of the younger Jack Williams, a second-year pro who was quickly snatched up on waivers by Detroit.
Although not fully up to speed, Law was thrust into action against Pittsburgh in passing situations. Law spent time helping shadow Hines Ward, who had a pair of 3-yard touchdown receptions.
“Once I knock this rust off, I know I’ll be able to help the team and hopefully be a bigger factor,” said Law, who came out of “semiretirement” to join the squad. “We just didn’t play well in the second half as a team, and they did.”
Part of that had to do with Ben Roethlisberger finding his rhythm. Bottled up much of the first half, Big Ben caught fire in the second, throwing three touchdown passes to turn a close contest into a rout.
The Steelers went to a no-huddle look in the second half, catching the Broncos off guard.
“We really didn’t have an answer for them,” linebacker Andra Davis explained.
That’s perplexing because halftime adjustments were the Broncos’ forte, something they could always count on to bail them out. Denver had a 76-10 scoring differential during its fast 6-0 start.
Not so lately.
The Broncos have been outscored 45-14 in the second halves of their last two games, blowout losses to Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
“Kind of disheartening,” Goodman said. “Both losses were big losses to the same division, and the same type of team. Both were playoff teams from last year. If we’re going to compete with those types of teams, we’re going to have to play better.”
Through six weeks, the Broncos offense had a methodical, no-mistake approach that served them well. Orton was the game manager, counted on to keep things running efficiently.
But like Baltimore the week before, the Steelers applied plenty of pressure on Orton and forced him to make quick decisions. Orton threw three interceptions against Pittsburgh after allowing just one – to New England’s Randy Moss at the end of a half – in the first seven games.
Denver’s ground game also was neutralized as Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno were kept in check, rushing for just 27 yards on 14 carries. The week before the tandem managed only 55 yards on 18 attempts.
Have the Ravens and Steelers exposed Denver’s deficiencies, possibly even provided a blueprint for the rest of the league to follow?
“They are two good defenses,” Orton said. “When you play those guys, the margin for error is very small … As a quarterback, I put it on myself. It is my offense, and I will get it back on track.”
As for the Broncos’ missing swagger, Davis has a pretty good idea on how to recapture it.
“Win,” he said. “Simple as that.”