Fox glad to return to coach the Broncos
The Sports Xchange
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT
John Fox missed everything about his job as an NFL head coach. Even the little annoyances, like having a microphone attached to his shirt prior to his weekly day-after-game press conference.
"I missed this," Fox said to the Broncos staffer who clipped the microphone to his shirt. Fox looked around, saw a media room even more crowded than usual, and settled in, answering questions that bore a far different tenor than usual.
The chatter was about his health, his emotions, and the experience of being left to watch his team from afar, and not so much about the 35-28 Broncos win on Sunday that put them in the driver's seat for the AFC West crown and kept them in pole position for the top seed in the AFC playoffs, with four foes that are a combined 16-32 left on their schedule.
Fox returned four weeks after undergoing surgery.
"As my surgeon said, I had a valve that was about as big as a pinhead; now it's the size of a 50-cent piece," Fox said. "I feel tremendous. Obviously, the doctors feel good about me getting back to work. I actually had looked forward to getting back sooner, but there was a pretty hard deadline of four weeks post-surgery. I honored that and here I am."
Fox said he began his regimen of walking the day of the surgery, beginning with walking around the hospital room. Through much of his recovery, he walked multiple miles each day, although he has not yet been cleared to do any more physical exertion than that.
But coaching should not be a problem -- as long as he and team medical personnel provide proper monitoring.
"I'm going to be smart," Fox said. "If all of a sudden I can't hold my eyes open, I'm going to go home. (But) the last three weeks, I've been operating pretty much like I did the first eight games of the season.
"It's not like I'm moving furniture or doing roofs. I sit somewhere and watch football."
The only question now is where he will watch Sunday's game. He has not decided if he will be in the press box or on the sideline. The weather might help make that decision for him; the forecast is for temperatures in the mid-20s and a wind chill in the single digits.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES
--Just hours after Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio's tenure as interim head coach ended, the chances of him becoming USC's next head coach vanished, as the school hired Steve Sarkisian away from the University of Washington.
Del Rio had interviewed with USC athletic director Pat Haden for the position during the Broncos' Week 9 bye. But that doesn't mean the Broncos won't be forced to replace their defensive coordinator of the last two seasons, as his 3-1 record against a demanding schedule as interim boss might have helped re-establish Del Rio's NFL head coaching credentials.
"If I'm an NFL team, and needed a head coach, I would definitely look at Jack," said cornerback Chris Harris. "I mean, he's done it before (in Jacksonville)."
But the experience in Jacksonville -- eight-plus seasons from 2003-11 and two playoff appearances -- might make Del Rio more discerning, something that Harris hopes will keep him around Denver. His decision to stay made Del Rio a recent rarity: a defensive coordinator who was with the Broncos multiple seasons. He was the first in that position to return to the job for another season since Larry Coyer, who held it from 2003-06.
"I always tell Jack, 'Why would you want to leave this?' You know what I mean," Harris said, laughing. "Not every head-coaching job is a fun job. That's how I see it."
--The only glimpse most onlookers had of wide receiver Eric Decker against the Patriots was of him being beaten for a fourth-quarter interception during the Patriots' run of 31 consecutive points. And with receivers Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas scoring the bulk of the touchdowns from quarterback Peyton Manning, Decker had become something of an overlooked man.
Sunday's performance alone might have made up for it. Decker scored four touchdowns on a variety of routes -- a post, a fade, a flag and a go down the seam -- and exploited one-on-one matchups against cornerbacks Marcus Cooper and Brandon Flowers for a career day.
It was a dramatic reversal of fortune for Decker, who had just three touchdown catches coming into the game but left with a Broncos single-game record four touchdown catches.
"Once you start getting into a rhythm, you build some confidence," Decker said. "For me, it's getting into that rhythm. Have fun and just remembering that it's football -- that's what I got back to (Sunday) just playing, letting things come to me, not forcing things."
Added interim coach Jack Del Rio: "That just shows you that Peyton is going to find you if you're open, if he likes the matchup."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think when I was laying on the 14th green, I did say a short prayer that, 'God, you get me out of this and I'll get it fixed now.' And that's kind of the way it worked." -- Broncos head coach John Fox, on the episode Nov. 2 that led to his surgery being pushed up from the offseason to Nov. 4.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB Montee Ball returned to his role as the primary relief back for starter Knowshon Moreno, and responded with his best performance, averaging 9.0 yards per carry and finishing with 117 yards on 13 attempts, including a 45-yarder in the third quarter and a 28-yard jaunt that sealed the game with 1:46 remaining.
--WR Eric Decker had more touchdowns Sunday (four) than in the Broncos' first 11 games this year (three), and set a new Broncos' single-game record for touchdown catches. Decker had struggled in recent weeks, and had more yardage Sunday (174) than his previous four games combined (170).
--P Britton Colquitt dropped two of his three punts inside the 10-yard line and finished with a net average of 44.0 yards, his best figure of the season.
--LB Wesley Woodyard's interception at the end of the first series might have been the most crucial defensive play of the game. If not for Woodyard's pick, the Chiefs would have had three touchdowns on their first three possessions; combined with a score on a kickoff return, that would have created a potentially insurmountable 21-point lead.
--CB Kayvon Webster worked extensively at cornerback with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie inactive and Champ Bailey on a strict repetition count after missing 10 of the first 12 games. Webster finished with three tackles.
--DL Derek Wolfe did not travel with the Broncos to Kansas City after experiencing seizure-like symptoms after practice Friday that sent him to the hospital. Broncos coach John Fox said Wolfe's situation was similar to that of CB Tracy Porter last year.
--WR Demaryius Thomas left the game in the first quarter with a shoulder injury, but returned and finished with 106 yards on three receptions, including a 77-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter that was the Broncos' longest play from scrimmage since Week 1.
--KR/PR Trindon Holliday left the game with a shoulder injury and did not return. Wes Welker filled in for him on punt returns, and Andre Caldwell handled kickoff return responsibilities.
--RB Knowshon Moreno played and finished with 90 yards from scrimmage, 72 of which came on four receptions. Moreno had bruised his ankle the previous week, but practiced Thursday and Friday.
--CB Champ Bailey played for the first time since Week 7, but saw limited work, playing just 42 percent of the snaps. He was not on the field in the fourth quarter, when Kayvon Webster worked in his place. The Chiefs threw at Bailey three times on their first possession.
--TE Julius Thomas was inactive on Sunday with a knee injury, missing a second consecutive game after being hurt against Kansas City in Week 11. Thomas practiced on a limited basis all last week.
--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie sat out the win over the Chiefs with a shoulder injury sustained against the Patriots on Nov. 24. He practiced on a limited basis late last week and is considered day-to-day.
--DT Kevin Vickerson was placed on injured reserve last week with a hip injury, but was back in the locker room on crutches Monday. Vickerson plans to remain a fixture at team headquarters to help guide the younger defensive linemen while he recovers.
REPORT CARD VS. CHIEFS
PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Peyton Manning refers to play-action passing as the "third phase" of the offense, and it worked better Sunday than it had at any point in the season, leaving Eric Decker in one-on-one coverage that he successfully exploited, with safety help usually arriving too late. Manning overcame a pair of early interceptions -- one of which was essentially a 30-yard punt, coming on a deep third-down pass -- and had his best deep passing game in recent memory.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- Although Knowshon Moreno was contained for just 18 yards on 15 carries, Montee Ball ran loose and finally lived up to his billing after a series of fumbles put his job in jeopardy. Ball read his developing holes perfectly and gained 117 yards, 73 of which came on a pair of carries. Moreno was starting to wear down under the weight of a career-high workload (23.3 touches per game), and if Ball can use this game as a springboard, he could rejuvenate Moreno in time for the playoffs.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- The Broncos were bailed out by the Chiefs' predilection for dropped passes -- and by LB Wesley Woodyard's end-zone interception on the first series, a play that turned out to be massive in preventing the Broncos from falling into a deep deficit from which they might not have recovered. Without DL Derek Wolfe and Kevin Vickerson, the Broncos lacked the normal interior push they would have received, and Von Miller and Shaun Phillips were not as effective off the edge as they were in previous weeks.
RUSH DEFENSE: C-minus -- The absences of Wolfe and Vickerson were particularly crucial here, as the Chiefs gained yardage in clumps and averaged 6.4 yards per carry. As was the case in Week 11, the Broncos were able to take a lead by the third quarter, which forced the Chiefs to veer away from their ideal run-pass ratio, which limited the damage Kansas City's run game could inflict. Nevertheless, the success of the Chiefs against a Broncos run defense that had been sliding even before Vickerson's injury and Wolfe's seizure symptoms could be a concern; the Titans have averaged 135.8 rushing yards per game in the last five weeks, 10th-best in the NFL.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Knile Davis' speed and a coverage breakdown up the middle led to the longest kickoff return ever allowed by the Broncos -- a 108-yarder that put the Broncos down 14-7. Trindon Holliday's shoulder injury robbed the potential explosion from the Broncos' return game. But the Broncos salvaged their day in the punt game, where one punt was downed inside Kansas City's 10-yard line and another resulted in possession at the Kansas City 3 after Omar Bolden clobbered returner Dexter McCluster.
COACHING: B-plus -- Unlike during the 34-31 overtime loss at New England, the Broncos' staff made effective in-game adjustments, switching the offensive emphasis to the play-action, which set up deep shots to exploit one-on-one matchups. Defensively, the Broncos focused on coverage and assignments rather than pressure as the game progressed, which contained the Chiefs during the middle two quarters of the game.