4:15 PM ET, January 3, 2010
Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, CO
First-year Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels is trying to avoid the type of late-season fade that cost predecessor Mike Shanahan his job.
And he's not afraid to bench his best offensive option to reach that goal.
With the surprising decision by McDaniels to bench Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall, the Broncos head into their season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday needing a win and some assistance to make the playoffs.
McDaniels has opted to sit Marshall, who strained a hamstring in practice earlier Wednesday and didn't practice Thursday. It is the second time McDaniels and Marshall -- the team's leader with 101 receptions, 1,120 yards and 10 touchdowns -- have clashed, with Marshall being suspended during training camp for insubordination.
While not directly addressing his decision, McDaniels did note other Broncos players are expected to play with injuries worse than Marshall's. The wideout, claiming he didn't want to escalate the controversy, responded that McDaniel didn't understand how hard it is to play hurt since his coach never played in the NFL.
McDaniels and Denver (8-7) emerged early as one of the biggest surprises and appeared to be cruising to its first AFC West title and playoff berth since 2005 when it started 6-0 following a 34-23 win at San Diego on Oct. 19.
That moved the Broncos 3 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Chargers heading into a bye.
Things fell apart after that, with Denver dropping seven of nine while San Diego reeled off 10 straight wins to win its fourth consecutive division crown.
Denver's postseason chances took a major blow last week. The Eagles' David Akers connected on a 28-yard field goal with 4 seconds to play to send the Broncos to their third loss in a row, 30-27 at Philadelphia.
The Broncos now need considerable help, and there's at least 10 different scenarios that can allow them to get into the playoffs. The simplest is if two of these three teams lose: Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets.
The Ravens travel to Oakland, while Pittsburgh plays in Miami and the Jets host Cincinnati.
Denver would need only one of those clubs to lose if it beats the Chiefs (3-12) and Houston defeats New England. The Broncos haven't failed to reach the playoffs for four years in a row since the first 17 years of their existence, with 10 coming in the AFL prior to the 1970 merger.
"I just hope we're focused on the game," McDaniels said. "I know there's a lot of other factors at play and there's so many different scenarios that if you're sitting there trying to calculate all those you might miss the first quarter.
"I don't think hoping for something else to happen while you're playing or while you're getting ready to play the game is going to do you any good."
Last season, the Broncos became the first team to blow a three-game lead with three to play after a 52-21 loss at San Diego in Week 17 that handed the division to the Chargers while Denver failed to make the playoffs, ultimately resulting in Shanahan's departure.
"We put ourselves in this position that we are in right now," wide receiver Jabar Gaffney said. "We just need to worry about ourselves right now and our own destiny and play as hard as we can against Kansas City."
Denver, though, must show a better rushing attack after being held to a total of 245 yards over the last three games, matching its entire production from a 44-13 win at Kansas City on Dec. 6.
Rookie Knowshon Moreno has been limited to 123 yards with 2.4 per carry and no touchdowns in those contests. He got in the end zone twice during the last meeting with the Chiefs, and leads the Broncos with 897 rushing yards and five TDs.
Kyle Orton has been a bright spot in his first year with Denver after being acquired from Chicago for Jay Cutler. Orton has thrown for 744 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions in the last three games, and he's already set career highs in completion percentage (62.7), yards (3,371), touchdowns (20) and passer rating (89.3).
The Broncos have won eight in a row at home against Kansas City, which will finish last in the conference. The Chiefs, though, are primed to play spoiler.
"They came in here and embarrassed us," linebacker Demorrio Williams said. "Now our team's a lot better. I think our team's going to pick it up and go out and take care of business."
Kansas City has lost five in a row, but feels good after playing tough in last week's 17-10 loss to AFC North champion Cincinnati.
"We're finding a little bit of an identity, and I think that's very important for players," first-year coach Todd Haley said. "We've got a long ways to go, but I think there has been progress. And I think the guys feel that and they're feeling better about themselves each and every week."
Jamaal Charles is a big reason the Chiefs are feeling confident. He's rushed for 399 yards with a 5.8 per carry average and two touchdowns in the last three games after gaining 102 yards on 24 carries against the Bengals.
"You have to know where he is at on every play and you can't ever underestimate how fast he is," McDaniels said. "His speed is special. There aren't many players in the league that you could say that about."
Charles, who took over as the feature back after cutting Larry Johnson in November, has rushed for 861 yards and five touchdowns.
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|Avg Points Allowed||26.5||20.3|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||KC|
|Rush Yds Allowed||KC|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Denver leads 11-7|
|Dec 6, 2009||KC 13, DEN 44|
|Dec 7, 2008||KC 17, @DEN 24|
|Sep 28, 2008||KC 33, DEN 19|
|Dec 9, 2007||KC 7, @DEN 41|
|Nov 11, 2007||KC 11, DEN 27|
|Nov 23, 2006||KC 19, DEN 10|
|Sep 17, 2006||KC 6, @DEN 9|
|Dec 4, 2005||KC 31, DEN 27|
|Sep 26, 2005||KC 10, @DEN 30|
|Dec 19, 2004||KC 45, DEN 17|
|Nov 6, 2004||KC 11, @DEN 17|
|Sep 12, 2004||KC 24, @DEN 34|
|Dec 7, 2003||KC 27, @DEN 45|
|Oct 5, 2003||KC 24, DEN 23|
|Dec 15, 2002||KC 24, @DEN 31|
|Oct 20, 2002||KC 34, DEN 37|
|Dec 16, 2001||KC 26, DEN 23|
|Oct 7, 2001||KC 6, @DEN 20|