(SportsNetwork.com) - The Denver Broncos own sole possession of first place in
the AFC West following a road victory last week.
They also now have their head coach back and are closing in a playoff spot.
John Fox is expected to be on the sidelines for the first time since late
October when the Broncos put their perfect home record on the line against the
Denver was 7-1 under Fox, who underwent a heart procedure on Nov. 4 after
complaining of lightheadedness during a golf outing a few days earlier.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio took over for Fox on an interim basis and
the Broncos won three of four under Del Rio.
"We missed him," said Del Rio. "It will be great to have him back."
Del Rio's stint as interim coach included a pair of victories over Kansas
City, putting the 10-2 Broncos a game ahead of the Chiefs for first place in
the AFC West.
The Broncos announced last Thursday that Fox had been medically cleared to
resume his duties and he returned to work on Monday, saying he felt good and
that the hardest part was watching his team play and not being there.
"As my surgeon said, I had a valve that was about as big as a pinhead and now
it's the size of a 50-cent piece. I feel tremendous," Fox said. "Obviously,
the doctors feel good about me getting back to work. I actually would have
preferred to get back sooner, but there was a pretty hard deadline of four
weeks post-surgery. I honored that and here I am."
And here the Broncos are, holding the AFC's top record thanks in part to a 6-0
mark at home. That included a 27-17 win over the visiting Chiefs on Nov. 17,
but they failed to take advantage the following week with a 34-31 overtime
setback to the New England Patriots.
Denver blew a 24-0 halftime lead versus New England, but was able to dig
itself out of a 21-7 hold to beat the hosting Chiefs 35-28.
Peyton Manning threw five touchdown passes, four of those to wide receiver
Eric Decker. Running back Knowshon Moreno also caught a touchdown pass and
rookie Montee Ball ran for 117 yards on 13 carries.
Manning and Decker connected for three straight scores to start the second
half, turning a seven-point deficit into a 35-21 lead. The Chiefs made it a
one-score game on Jamaal Charles' one-yard touchdown with 6:32 left, but a
final drive came up short when Alex Smith's fourth-down pass to Dwayne Bowe
was broken up by Broncos safety Mike Adams in the end zone.
"A great, gritty effort on the road," said Del Rio. "We knew it was going to
be a hostile environment and figured they would have a surge early with
emotion as a factor and I love the way our guys responded to that."
Manning threw two interceptions in the first half that led to Kansas City
touchdowns, but finished with 403 yards passing and broke his own Broncos
record by reaching 41 touchdown passes this season.
Decker had eight receptions for 174 yards and came into the game with three
touchdown catches on the season before hauling in his team-record four versus
Denver can now clinch a playoff spot with a victory. The Broncos could also
lock up a postseason bid with a loss by either Miami or Baltimore.
The Titans, meanwhile, fell to 5-7 on the season and a game back of Baltimore
and Miami for the second wild card spot in the AFC with a 22-14 setback at the
Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
Tennessee quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was picked off three times and also
lost a fumble as the Colts kicked five field goals before sealing the outcome
with Donald Brown's four-yard TD run with 1:56 to play.
"I think you always have to give them credit," noted Fitzpatrick. "That being
said, I didn't play well today in a lot of different aspects but obviously in
the turnovers. You can't turn the ball over like that and expect to win in any
Fitzpatrick threw for 201 yards and a touchdown while also scoring once on the
ground as the Titans outgained the Colts 347-264 and had five sacks despite
the losing outcome.
Tennessee fell three games back of Indianapolis for first place in the AFC
South and is 0-4 against the division this season.
"You're not going to win the division when you're 0-4 in your division and
that's where we're at," said Titans coach Mike Munchak. "We have plenty of
opportunities. It seems like we stand here after a lot of these games saying
we lost to Houston in overtime, we lost to these guys by three points, by a
touchdown, we lost to Jacksonville by two. We're there, we can't finish the
game. We make too many mistakes for whatever reason."
The Titans are wrapping a three-game road trip and host the Arizona Cardinals
next weekend. They are one victory shy of matching last season's total of six.
Tennessee snapped a three-game losing streak to Denver with a 17-14 home
victory on Sept. 25, 2011 and lead the all-time series 21-14-1. However, the
Titans are under .500 in the Mile High City at 7-8-1.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The big focus will be on if Fox's return alters the Broncos' game plan in any
That isn't likely, given the Manning-led offense ranks first in the NFL in
yardage and scoring, putting up 38.7 points per game.
Denver's 464 pints are the third-most by a team through the first 12 games of
a season in NFL history, behind only the 2007 New England Patriots (469) and
1950 Los Angeles Rams (466).
"I don't think it will change much. ... I'm sure it will be very similar,"
said Munchak. "When you're winning and successful like they have been, there's
not going to be a lot of changes in what they do as we start to study them.
It's going to be a challenge. They're playing well, and they're usually
playing with a lead."
That has a lot to do with Manning, whose 4,125 passing yards are the most in
league history through 12 games. His 41 touchdown passes also are two shy of
Drew Brees (2012( for the seventh-most in a single season. Manning is already
second on that list with 49 thrown in 2004 with the Colts, later surpassed by
only Tom Brady's 50 in 2007 for New England.
Manning gave a lot of credit to Del Rio for keeping the team together while
Fox was gone.
"You can tell he's an experienced head coach," Manning said of Del Rio. "Our
team has faced a lot of adversity in a short time and you never expect your
head coach not to be with you the entire time. But coach Del Rio's done a good
job of keeping us together. He had a tough stretch of four games and we were
able to endure."
Receivers Decker, Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas all have over 60 receptions
this season, with Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas having caught 10
touchdown passes. Moreno has added two receiving scores to his nine rushing
and Welker has nine TD grabs, leaving the Broncos one Welker touchdown short
of becoming the first team in NFL history to have four players total at least
10 touchdowns from scrimmage.
A lot of focus this weekend could be on Decker, who was named AFC Offensive
Player of the Week, and avoiding a letdown.
"We know what our goal is ultimately and to be able to achieve a championship
you have to be consistent and I think that's one of the biggest things about
this locker room, the character of the guys in here is that we're always
striving to get better," noted the wideout. "We're never slowing down or being
OK with what we did. We're always kind of stepping that ladder."
Julius Thomas needs one scoring catch to pass Shannon Sharpe for the most by a
tight end in team single-season history, but has missed the past two games
with a knee injury.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe also missed the Chiefs game after being hospitalized
when he experienced seizure-like symptoms last Friday.
The Titans rank seventh in defending the pass, giving up just 212.6 yards per
game. They held the Colts to 160 net passing yards and got sacks from five
Jurrell Casey notched his team-high eighth sack of the season last weekend,
the most among AFC defensive tackles, while end Derrick Morgan logged his
Facing Manning is certainly a test, but the Titans are eligible to have
safety Michael Griffin back after he served a one-game suspension for his
second violation this season of delivering a blow to the head of a
Griffin is third on the club with 60 tackles and George Wilson last weekend
filled the void created by the suspension. Wilson logged five tackles and two
"That was disruptive not having your starting safety," noted Munchak. "I
thought George (Wilson) came in and did a nice job. When you look at the
numbers, if you're into stats, we won every stat except the turnover stat and
the final score."
Munchak's offense was also thrown off by the loss of tight end Delanie Walker
(45 receptions, 5 TD) to a concussion during the Colts game. With Craig
Stevens already out due to a concussion suffered the week earlier, Taylor
Thompson was the only healthy tight end.
Fullback Collin Mooney was also lost during the game due to a leg injury.
With the status of Walker and Stevens unknown until the end of the week, the
Titans signed tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on Tuesday and he practiced the
"They both seem to be doing pretty good, but we got to follow the procedure
there. Hoping to have both of them on Friday," Munchak said of Walker and
The only question for the Broncos will be if they begin to let off the gas
ahead of the postseason. Denver is a virtual lock to clinch a playoff spot
soon, but still has the division title left to wrap.
The return of Fox should also give Denver some added energy this weekend
against an inferior opponent.
"I know he's excited to be back," Manning said of Fox. "You can sense that --
that passion and enthusiasm. The players are excited that he's back as well."
Manning has won five straight versus the Titans and is 13-5 against them all-
time with a 102.2 passer rating. It should be more of the same this weekend
despite Tennessee's capable pass defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Broncos 31, Titans 23
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