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Rising to the Occasion

Posted Sep 18, 2011

Despite numerous injuries on both sides of the ball, the Broncos fought off the Bengals for a 24-22 victory.


DENVER - Undermanned would be an understatement.

The Broncos entered Sunday's game against Cincinnati without four starters from Week 1, as cornerback Champ Bailey, defensive end Elvis Dumervil, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd and running back Knowshon Moreno all sat out due to injury.

And that's excluding three other inactive players - Demaryius Thomas, Marcus Thomas and D.J. Williams - who missed the opener as well.

Then the game kicked off, and tight end Julius Thomas went down with an ankle injury. Wideout Eddie Royal went down shortly after with a groin injury.

Suddenly, quarterback Tim Tebow was putting on a pair of gloves and lining up at wide receiver alongside tight ends-turned-occasional-wideouts Daniel Fells and Virgil Green.

"You look in the huddle, and we're calling plays that are usually three-wide-receiver plays, four-wide-receiver plays," quarterback Kyle Orton said, "and we've got two tight ends and a quarterback in."

It was that kind of day for the Broncos, but they refused to let injuries hold them back en route to a 24-22 win.

"Coach (Fox) always tells us next man up," cornerback Cassius Vaughn said, who was thrust into a starting role with Bailey unavailable. "We did what we had to do. I mean, you see Tebow at wide receiver today. Next man up no matter what position you play."

"We had nine or 10 guys that are usually on the field -- they were out," Orton added. "It shows a lot about our whole team, the way we battled."

Coaches around the NFL preach the famed "next man up" mentality, but the true test comes when injuries strike and backups are thrown into the fire to execute it on game day.

Sunday, the Broncos faced that daunting challenge and never flinched. There was no hesitation, no sense of surprise.

The next men up performed and the Broncos earned a victory.

"It builds some character," Head Coach John Fox said. "Our guys will understand that we were shorthanded. We will get some of those guys back, but mentally I think it will give us more confidence."

Contributions to Sunday's winning effort came from everywhere on the depth chart.

As the No. 1 wide receiver, Eric Decker had a breakthrough performance, leading the team with five receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns.

As the team's featured running back, Willis McGahee ran for 101 yards and scored a touchdown.

As the team's starting weakside linebacker with Williams sidelined, Wesley Woodyard recorded a game-leading 13 tackles and laid out to break up a pass during Cincinnati's final drive.

As the defense's nickel back, Jonathan Wilhite recorded a sack to push the Bengals out of game-winning field goal range late.

And as a starting cornerback, Vaughn was there to force an incompletion on the Bengals' fourth-down try in the closing seconds to seal the win.

Decker had to admit the injury situation made Sunday's victory even sweeter.

"A lot more special," he said of the win. "It just shows the camaraderie of this team -- the will of this team. And I think that's something that can win you a lot of ballgames."

"We showed resilience," Decker continued. "To pull this victory off and really stick together just tells a lot about this team and the coaching staff."

The phrase "next man up" was echoed repeatedly as the Broncos prepared for Sunday's game with a lengthy injury report.  The words are one thing, but the production is quite another. 

When it mattered most, those "next men" stepped into their new roles and let their play do the talking.

"You know what," linebacker Joe Mays said, "next man up is the best man up."