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Denver Broncos - TeamReport

NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT

Retirement after the 2014 season is something that Peyton Manning admits that he has not considered.

"I certainly plan on being back if the Broncos will have me," the Denver quarterback said. "But at this point, I'm kind of thinking about Oakland. I know this is the time where conversations about what head coaches are going to return, and I guess, for some reason I get to fall in that category."

But so hysterical was the reaction of some Broncos fans to the 37-28 loss that more than a handful of followers suggested that the 38-year-old passer was done -- or should even be benched in favor of third-year quarterback Brock Osweiler, a project with no NFL starts and no regular-season experience beyond inconsistent cameos late in blowouts.

The expectations around the Broncos -- "Super Bowl or bust," as defensive tackle Terrance Knighton has said -- have created a joyless atmosphere outside the building. Losses are lamented as though they are the end of the world. Wins are criticized for lacking style points.

And with Manning hitting a speed bump this month -- three touchdown passes against six interceptions as he battles through a thigh injury he suffered against San Diego on Dec. 14 -- the "airing of grievances" of Festivus renown dominated Denver on Tuesday.

"There are, what, five great quarterbacks in the league?" asked running back C.J. Anderson "And he's up there, maybe No. 1, No. 2. There are a lot of people right now who would take a four-pick Peyton Manning on their team."

Manning still leads the league in touchdown passes. He earned his 14th Pro Bowl appearance when the roster of players for the all-star game was announced Tuesday. And even with a recent sub-par run of form, he is still the Broncos' best hope for returning to the Super Bowl and having a chance to succeed where they failed last Feb. 2.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't take his first four-interception game in four years hard.

"I think as soon as you stop taking it hard I'm not sure you ought to be doing it as much,' Manning said. "I think it should mean something to you, it's got to matter to you.

"I'm envious that sometimes there's guys [where you] can't really tell if they've won or lost the day after games. I don't have that in me."

By Wednesday, he was over it. The Broncos had a practice with no helmets and no pads, owing to the short turnaround from Monday Night Football. A win is crucial for a team battered by injuries in recent weeks; the Broncos show the signs of a team buckling under the accumulated strain of 13 consecutive games. They need a break.

But Manning doesn't need the longest break of all -- retirement.

"I have no plans around those lines and I'm enjoying playing and looking forward to Sunday's game and hopefully the game that will follow that," he said.

SERIES HISTORY: 109th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead series, 59-47-2. Denver has won six straight. The most historic meeting between these two teams was on Jan. 1, 1978, when the Broncos defeated Oakland 20-17 to win their first AFC championship.

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NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES

--PLAYOFF PICTURE FOR BRONCOS: Clinched AFC West, vs. Raiders on Sunday

Clinch first-round bye with 1) win/tie against Raiders; 2) Bengals loss in Week 17; 3) Bengals tie + Colts loss in Week 17

-- Running back C.J. Anderson tweeted out an apology for a short, repetitive question-and-answer session after Monday's 37-28 loss that evoked the interviews of fellow ex-Cal running back Marshawn Lynch.

Anderson responded to five consecutive questions with some variation of "We played terrible, we've got to get better, watch tape (and) get better next week." A day later, a contrite Anderson expressed remorse for his demeanor.

"I apologize 4 my actions towards the media [Monday]," he tweeted. "I was very frustrated in the way I played. I'm not that type of guy #neveragain."

Until Monday, Anderson had been one of the most candid and accommodating Broncos to media in the locker room. The hashtag at the end of his tweet indicates that will resume after his hiccup.

Anderson met with the media Wednesday and apologized again.

"I was frustrated in my play and I probably should have told you guys to come talk to me 10 minutes after and I just had a heated argument prior to that and I was just upset and very angry," he said.

-- The Broncos placed a league-best nine players into the Pro Bowl, led by quarterback Peyton Manning, who was selected for the 14th time, and defensive end DeMarcus Ware, who earned his eighth career Pro Bowl nod.

Left tackle Ryan Clady was selected for the fourth time. Linebacker Von Miller, and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas will go for a third time. Tight end Julius Thomas, cornerback Aqib Talb and safety T.J. Ward earned their second career selections.

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. is the Broncos' only first-time Pro Bowler, capping a massive month in which he signed a five-year contract extension that could earn him $8.5 million a year if he plays out the deal.

The Broncos' Pro Bowl complement is the second-highest in club history, behind the 10 selections that followed the 1998 season in which they won a second consecutive Super Bowl.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders is a second alternate, and running back C.J. Anderson, who did not start until Week 11 but has averaged 122.9 yards from scrimmage per game since replacing the injured Ronnie Hillman at Oakland on Nov. 9.

If Sanders gets bumped up to the Pro Bowl roster through withdrawals, it will mean that the Broncos placed all four of their marquee free-agent pickups from last March in the 2015 Pro Bowl: Sanders, Ward, Talib and Ware.

BY THE NUMBERS: 68.3 -- Percentage of receptions allowed by the Broncos the last two weeks to opposing running backs and tight ends, as opponents seek to attack the Broncos' weakened linebacker corps. In Weeks 1-14, that percentage was 46.3..

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The only thing I want for Christmas is a Super Bowl ring. Won't be satisfied until we get that. It'll be a late Christmas present, but it's the only thing I want." -- CB Chris Harris Jr.

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NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

2015 Pro Bowl selections from 2014 season:

Game will be played January 25, 2015 in Glendale, Ariz., site of the Super Bowl. Hall of Fame receivers Cris Carter and Michael Irvin will serve as captains and select teams from this list, drafting alternately until all players are taken. Here are players taken by team (number of players after team; number of Pro Bowls after name):

DENVER (9):

Ryan Clady, Tackle, 4,

Chris Harris, Cornerback, 1

Peyton Manning, Quarterback, 14

Von Miller, Outside Linebacker, 3

Aqib Talib, Cornerback, 2

Demaryius Thomas, Wide Receiver, 3

Julius Thomas, Tight End, 2

T.J. Ward, Strong Safety, 2

DeMarcus Ware, Defensive End, 8

--By Position:

Offense

--Quarterback: Tom Brady, Patriots; Andrew Luck, Colts; Peyton Manning, Broncos; Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers; Tony Romo, Cowboys.

--Running back: Le'Veon Bell, Steelers; Jamaal Charles, Chiefs; Arian Foster, Texans; Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks; LeSean McCoy, Eagles; DeMarco Murray, Cowboys.

--Wide receiver: Antonio Brown, Steelers; Dez Bryant, Cowboys; A.J. Green, Bengals; T.Y. Hilton, Colts; Calvin Johnson, Lions; Julio Jones, Falcons; Jordy Nelson, Packers; Demaryius Thomas, Broncos.

--Tight end: Jimmy Graham, Saints; Rob Gronkowski, Patriots; Greg Olsen, Panthers; Julius Thomas, Broncos.

--Fullback: John Kuhn, Packers; Marcel Reece, Raiders.

--Tackles: Ryan Clady, Broncos; Jason Peters, Eagles; Tyron Smith, Cowboys; Joe Staley, 49ers; Joe Thomas, Browns; Trent Williams, Redskins.

--Guard: Jahri Evans, Saints; Mike Iupati, 49ers; Kyle Long, Bears; Zack Martin, Cowboys; Josh Sitton, Packers; Marshal Yanda, Ravens.

--Center: Travis Frederick, Cowboys; Jason Kelce, Eagles; Nick Mangold, Jets; Maurkice Pouncey, Steelers.

Defense

--Defensive end: Calais Campbell, Cardinals; Robert Quinn, Rams; Cameron Wake, Dolphins; DeMarcus Ware, Broncos; J.J. Watt, Texans; Mario Williams, Bills.

--Interior linemen: Marcell Dareus, Bills; Aaron Donald, Rams; Gerald McCoy, Buccaneers; Dontari Poe, Chiefs; Ndamukong Suh, Lions; Kyle Williams, Bills.

--Outside linebacker: Connor Barwin, Eagles; Elvis Dumervil, Ravens; Tamba Hali, Chiefs; Justin Houston, Chiefs; Clay Matthews, Packers; Von Miller, Broncos.

--Inside linebacker: Luke Kuechly, Panthers; C.J. Mosley, Ravens; Lawrence, Timmons, Steelers; Bobby Wagner, Seahawks.

--Cornerback: Vontae Davis, Colts; Brent Grimes, Dolphins; Joe Haden, Browns; Chris Harris, Broncos; Patrick Peterson, Cardinals; Darrelle Revis, Patriots; Richard Sherman, Seahawks; Aqib Talib, Broncos.

--Free safety: Tashaun Gipson, Browns; Glover Quin, Lions; Earl Thomas, Seahawks; Eric Weddle, Chargers.

--Strong safety: Kam Chancellor, Seahawks; T.J. Ward, Broncos.

Special Teams

--Punter: Kevin Huber, Bengals; Pat McAfee, Colts.

--Placekicker: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots; Adam Vinatieri, Colts.

--Return specialist: Devin Hester, Falcons; Darren Sproles, Eagles.

--Special teamer: Justin Bethel, Cardinals; Matthew Slater, Patriots.

PLAYER NOTES

--S T.J. Ward was on the practice field Wednesday, but did not take part in drills at the start of practice as he recovers from a neck strain suffered in the fourth quarter Monday night.

--RG Manny Ramirez sat out Wednesday's practice because of an illness, as a bug continues to work its way through the Broncos' locker room. Ben Garland filled in for him. 3

--DT Mitch Unrein did not practice Wednesday because of an illness.

--LB Lamin Barrow did not practice Wednesday due to illness. Barrow, one of the Broncos' backup linebackers, has been limited to special teams in the last few weeks in spite of the Broncos' wave of injuries at linebacker.

--LB Brandon Marshall has not practiced since suffering a mid-foot sprain against the Chargers on Dec. 14. The Broncos hope to have him back in the postseason, and missed him badly in Cincinnati.

--LT Ryan Clady played every snap against Cincinnati after leaving the Week 15 game at San Diego because of a quadriceps injury that limited him in practice the following week.

--QB Peyton Manning played through a thigh injury that limited him in practice last week and threw four interceptions, his most in a single game since the 2010 season. Manning has averaged one interception every 14 attempts this month.

--OT Paul Cornick returned to practice Wednesday after missing the last two games because of a turf toe injury.

--RB Ronnie Hillman has missed the last six games, but on Wednesday had his first full practice since suffering a mid-foot sprain Nov. 9.

GAME PLAN: Oakland has been feisty at home this year, winning three consecutive games at O.co Coliseum over three teams that were in the thick of the playoff race: Kansas City, San Francisco and Buffalo. It's been a different story on the road, where the Raiders were competitive at midseason, taking one-score losses to the Seahawks and Chargers, but have been out of it ever since, losing to the Rams and Chiefs by a combined 83-13.

Denver fell behind early in the Week 10 game in Oakland, and if the Raiders struggle as they have on the road, an early deficit won't be a problem. But if the Raiders take an early lead and carry their momentum from their recent home form, the Broncos could be in for a fight in order to claim the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Broncos LBs Todd Davis and Steven Johnson vs. Raiders RBs Latavius Murray and Darren McFadden.

Davis and Johnson struggled to contain Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard last week, and now face a Raiders ground attack energized by the recent emergence of Latavius Murray. Davis missed a tackle on Bengals running back Jeremy Hill that led to his 85-yard touchdown run Monday, and Johnson missed a pair of tackles and was beaten by Bernard on a short crossing pattern for a third-quarter touchdown.

--Broncos Ts Ryan Clady and Louis Vasquez vs. Raiders pass rushers Justin Tuck and Khalil Mack.

Clady has struggled the last two weeks because of a quadriceps injury, and Vasquez had a rough night Monday as he struggled to contain Cincinnati's Carlos Dunlap. The two tackles combined to allow 7 pressures of Peyton Manning in the Week 16 loss, and now must face the improving Mack and the veteran Tuck, who had an interception after making an unexpected drop into short coverage during the teams' Week 10 game. Mack and Tuck each had a sack last week, and will be looking to repeat that against another less-than-mobile quarterback.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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