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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Broncos are gasping for air

They're tied with the Chargers, whom they face today, and starting quarterback Kyle Orton is hurting.

November 22, 2009|Sam Farmer
  • DenverÂ’s Chris Simms struggled last week, but he still figures to start against San Diego today.
DenverÂ’s Chris Simms struggled last week, but he still figures… (Mark Reis / Colorado Springs…)

Altitude sickness?

That's supposed to happen to the other guys -- not the Denver Broncos.

But it seems the Broncos have gone all wobbly after building a 3 1/2 -game lead in the AFC West then frittering it away. From the toe-tingling height of a six-win start, to the depths of a three-loss tumble. Now, tied atop the division with San Diego, they play host to the Chargers today for the inside track on a playoff berth.

It's a very interesting position for surging San Diego, which has won four in a row and was in a strikingly similar situation at the end of last season when it wiped out a three-game lead by Denver in the final three weeks.

What's more, for the second time in three weeks, the Chargers are facing a team on the road that's looking to stop a three-game slide. Like the Broncos, the New York Giants had lost three in a row when they played host to the Chargers on Nov. 8.

The last couple of seasons, San Diego fell victim to untimely injuries. Now, Denver has a big one: Quarterback Kyle Orton suffered an ankle injury at the end of first half at Washington last Sunday and was replaced by the rusty Chris Simms for the rest of the game.

Orton reportedly hopes to play today, even though he has ligament damage to his ankle. If he can't, the job falls to Simms, who last started a game Sept. 24, 2006, when he was playing for Tampa Bay in a two-point loss to Carolina. Afterward, Simms wound up undergoing emergency surgery to remove his ruptured spleen.

Simms struggled against the Redskins, completing three of 13 passes for 13 yards.

"I would have loved for [Simms] to have played better, but I think there's some other things that happened in the course of the second half that affected his play or would have affected Kyle's play," Broncos Coach Josh McDaniels said last week. "We got into some long yardage situations. We obviously had two two-minute drives there at the end, we're behind and we had to throw and they know it and they're pass-rushing us."

In a way, the Chargers have benefited from some injuries they had earlier this season. They've been able to provide a lot of their backups with experience they wouldn't have normally gotten.

One spot to watch today is inside linebacker next to Stephen Cooper, where starter Kevin Burnett (ankle) and Tim Dobbins (knee) suffered injuries after playing very well; third-stringer Brandon Siler moved into that spot and did an outstanding job. Now, all three players are back and ready to play. Look for the Chargers to experiment with a rotation at that position, confident that all three players are capable of playing at a high level.

Supreme sacrifice

It was a humorous and telling moment last Sunday when Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew apologized to his fantasy football owners for taking a knee on the one against the New York Jets rather than scoring the touchdown. Jones-Drew suffered too, because he starts himself on his own fantasy team.

Jaguars Coach Jack Del Rio said he's constantly approached by fantasy enthusiasts who urge him to use certain players more, or question his decisions that impact their teams.

"I started hearing that in the off-season," Del Rio said. "And I always told those guys, 'Your fantasies and my fantasies are different. Let's acknowledge that, all right?' "

In the long run (and pass)

Have you noticed there have been a lot of long plays this season? Through 10 weeks, there have been 95 touchdowns of 50 yards or longer. That's the second-most through this point in the season since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger (98 in 1998).

The league is on pace for 168 such touchdowns, which again would be second only to the 1998 season (173).

Most 50-yard touchdowns in the first 10 weeks of the season (since 1970):

1998

98

2009

95

2007

91

2003

89

2008

89

Source: NFL

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