ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --A smile crossed Chris Clark's face when he greeted a reporter in the locker room at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego late Sunday afternoon.
He knew this was the right kind of attention -- the product of stepping in for injured left tackle Ryan Clady, providing steady play, and -- most important of all -- contributing to the win that clinched the Broncos' fourth consecutive AFC West title.
For the three weeks prior to the 22-10 win, Clark was inactive. From starting the first five games of the regular season at right tackle to not even being in uniform by Thanksgiving weekend was a humbling experience for him, considering that he started 17 games, including playoffs, at left tackle in place of Clady last year.
See the best moments captured from Sunday's AFC West-sealing victory in sunny San Diego.
But he didn't mope.
"It gave me time to regroup, get back and reflect on what I've put on tape, and just to get better from it, just trying not to make those same mistakes, and just get better at every little aspect of my game," Clark said.
Opportunity knocked when Paul Cornick suffered a toe injury, moving Clark back into the starting lineup Sunday as a sixth offensive lineman. When Clady succumbed to a thigh injury, Clark was back at left tackle, a "more natural" position than right tackle, which he started the first five games of the regular season before Cornick started three consecutive weeks, after which the Broncos shook up their alignment.
"Becoming coming the backup guy, I just know, 'at any moment now.' So I'm going to prepare as if I'm starting. So when that happened, there was no sweat for me," Clark said. "I know what to do, I know my assignments, and it's time to get back on the horse. That's how I felt. That's how I took it."
It wasn't quite back to the era in which Paul Brown substituted guards or linebackers to send in the playcall between the snaps, but with Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall both sidelined by the fourth quarter, the Broncos made do without having one of their defenders wearing a helmet with the radio receiver.
"It was interesting," Head Coach John Fox said. "You've kind of gotten away from signals on defense. But we had to readapt that. We kind of had a little system in place so we didn't have to signal. I don't want to get too much into that but it was actually without having to communicate visually with signals and without any kind of helmet communication. I thought our staff did a good job of adjusting to that."
Some of the calls came through rookie Todd Davis, who saw some sub package work early and worked every down toward the end of the game.
"We kind of worked out some things on the sideline. They gave me a couple of options on signals," Davis said. "Kind of like, you've got these plays to choose from, you can run these while you're out there, and then we'll work from there."
With Trevathan likely out for the rest of the season and Marshall "day-to-day" with a foot injury, the Broncos will have to decide who gets the radio helmets. If Marshall doesn't play, the helmets could be worn by Davis, Steven Johnson or perhaps other linebackers.
But it's "way too far ahead" to determine who will handle that, Fox said.
- In the last two seasons, the Broncos have kneeled or run out the clock at the end of the first half only when taking possession with less than 20 seconds remaining before halftime. So with 1:27 left in the second quarter, the Broncos opted to attack, even though Peyton Manning was in the locker room. "Whether it's Ryan Clady coming out and we go with Chris Clark or whether it's Peyton Manning coming out and we go with Brock Osweiler, you're still going to execute your game plan. You can't play this game scared," Fox said. "We had decent field position. We were going to let him play quarterback."
- Although the Broncos ran for 111 yards against the Chargers, their 39 carries -- 35 when kneeldowns are eliminated -- gave them an average of just one first down every 8.75 runs. The passing game was far more efficient, moving the sticks once every 2.3 pass plays.
- Tight end Dominique Jones made his Broncos debut after a promotion from the practice squad and played four snaps.
- Safeties Rahim Moore and T.J. Ward were the only Broncos defenders to play every snap on that side of the football.
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