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Next-Day Notebook: Chris Harris Jr. fights through shoulder pain, Brandon McManus rock solid

Harris fights through shoulder pain, focuses on return to full strength

It was an odd sight watching the Broncos defense work in its base package without Chris Harris Jr. It wasn't that he was unavailable, but as he battled a clearly bothersome shoulder injury, Harris tried to avoid being on the field unless it was necessary in a subpackage when the Steelers utilized three- or four-wide receiver sets.

"That's why Roby played all the base [snaps]," Harris said. "I tried to have Roby play as much as he could while I was on the sideline. […]He played tremendous. He stepped up for me. I couldn't play every down like I usually play and I just tip my hat to Roby. That was key for him to be able to come in and replace me today."

The Broncos are off to the AFC Championships with a win over the Steelers. These are the best snaps of the game.

But that didn't make too much difference in the end, given how much Pittsburgh's formations necessitated the Broncos to utilize Harris in subpackages. Harris played 47 defensive snaps (75 percent) while Roby played 52 (83 percent).

Watching the game, it wasn't hard to tell that the shoulder injury was a nuisance for Harris, though he acknowledged he fought through it previously against San Diego in Week 17.

"It's an injury that it's everything I do: putting hands on cats, tackling," Harris said. "It affected my whole game. It was just so hard to play. I preach on getting hands, every time, on somebody. It's hard when that part of my game is taken away, so I had to alter my game and how I play. I've got to figure out a way."

With just a week before the AFC Championship Game against New England, Harris is focused on healing up so he can return to his pristine Pro Bowl form that he's showcased over the past two years.

"I'm still not myself. I'm getting there," Harris said. "I've just got to take it week-to-week and hopefully I get back to 100 percent and be able to play how I want to play. […] I've just got to get to 100 [percent]. That's all I'm worried about."

McManus comes through with five field goals

With swirling gusts slicing through Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Sunday could have been a tough day for Brandon McManus. The Broncos couldn't afford that to happen with the offense struggling to push drives into the red zone, and it didn't happen, because McManus was perfect with five field goals.

McManus had warmed up to much calmer conditions, but shortly before kickoff, the conditions changed, though his mindset didn't. 

"During warmups, I went out there and it was a pretty calm day -- a nice, Denver day," McManus said. "We come out seven minutes before kickoff and I see a 30 mile-per-hour crosswind coming in over the Rockies. I wasn't nervous at the time, but I knew it would make for an exciting day, and you know, play a little target practice out there and kind of have to hit a ball to a spot and hopefully the wind takes it."

The Broncos relied on McManus early and often, and he responded by hitting a 28-yard field goal to open the game, and then a 41 yarder. Both were over the north uprights, rather than the open south side of the stadium. 

When the teams switched sides in the second quarter, Denver looked to McManus again to cut into Pittsburgh's lead. In the closing minutes of the first half, the Broncos drove 62 yards to set McManus up with a 51-yard attempt into blustery winds.

"I thought it wasn't going to be easy down the middle, and it barely snuck in that way," McManus said. "So it definitely made it difficult conditions for us kickers, punters and snappers, but I have the two best snapper and holder for me. I know it's been tough for the week and laces make a difference and stuff like that. But I have two of the best in the business, [P] Britton [Colquitt] and [LS] Aaron Brewer, that help me out a lot."

McManus added two more field goals in the second half to help the Broncos to their eventual 23-16 victory over the Steelers, and with an even-keel mindset, he was a stable force for Denver.

"I want to help my team any way I can. No matter the yards or the field goals, it's kind of my job out there to make them. So I'm just happy I was able to help the team, and they were able to punch it in for a touchdown and give us a little bit of a lead at the end."

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