Broncos Update Inside Slant - January 1, 2004

Two weeks ago the Broncos did the unthinkable: they dominated the Indianapolis Colts, on the road, without star running back Clinton Portis and their starting right guard. Now it's time for Round 2, and there's no question the Broncos are as confident as they've ever been.

"It will be tough, but at the same time, we know what we can do," said second-year cornerback Lenny Walls, who will be making his first playoff appearance.

"We've done it once and we know that we can do it again. It's a confidence-builder."

The Broncos didn't just beat the Colts 31-17 -- they dominated, holding a 30-minute advantage in time of possession, a 465-183 edge in yards and 26-11 edge in first downs.

To think the game started with the Colts intercepting a Jake Plummer pass and returning it for a touchdown. Plummer came back strong, and showed his teammates he's the guy to lead them into the playoffs.

Once again Sunday, the key will be Denver's running game, and keeping Peyton Manning and Co. off the field as much as possible.

"They know it's coming," veteran tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "And they have to do a job of stopping it. We're not going to stop it. When you've got a guy like Clinton, who can give you 25-30 carries and 150-200 yards, you've got to give him the rock."

The Colts will no doubt bring eight men up in an effort to stop Portis, but while Jake Plummer has an assortment of ready targets, look for Denver to keep running. Of note is the fact that the Colts enter the game as 3-point favorites, despite the shellacking two weeks ago. Perhaps Vegas odds makers know that Mike Shanahan has never won a playoff game without John Elway.

Of course, he's had only one -- and then the Broncos started Gus Frerotte. With Plummer, there's a much better chance he'll get that monkey off his back. If not Peyton Manning, 0-3 in playoff games, will.

"I really like our chances," said Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith, one of 10 players remaining from Denver's last Super Bowl team. "When you're playing on the road, you've got to be able to run the football. Everybody knows we have one of the best run games. You control the crowd, control the game with the run."

SERIES HISTORY: 1st postseason meeting. Teams have met 14 times in regular season, with Broncos holding a 10-4 edge. They won the most recent meeting, Dec. 21, at the RCA Dome, 31-17.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--The Broncos will select no higher than 25th in April's draft -- the lowest pick among the six teams that finished with 10-6 records. The only way they move out of that position is if they make it to the super bowl.

--The Broncos finished the season ranked fourth on defense, an impressive figure considering they lost two starting linebackers, prized free agent acquisition Daryl Gardener, and moved cornerback Deltha O'Neal to wide receiver because of unimpressive play. Eight of their defensive starters were street free agents at one time.

--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has taken a little heat for not playing many of his starters in the regular-season finale. But the league apparently has no problem with that -- as long as the players on the field are fully competitive.

Shanahan defended his decision to rest starters Jake Plummer, Shannon Sharpe, Rod Smith, Dan Neil and Clinton Portis.

"I'm required to do the best thing for this football team and organization," he said. "I felt going into the game the best thing to give us the best chance to win in the playoffs and the Super Bowl was to rest some of our guys especially some of our older guys.

"As a football coach, you're responsibility is getting your team to play hard and I'm really proud of our football team ... we played hard."

BY THE NUMBERS: 7 -- The Broncos are the only team to finish the regular season ranked among the top seven in total offense (seventh) and total defense (fourth).

37 -- Number of offensive plays the Colts ran in the last meeting with Denver -- about half their usual number. They simply never had the ball, with the Broncos holding a 30-minute advantage in time of possession.

227 -- Yards rushing by the Broncos two weeks ago against the Colts -- without Clinton Portis and right guard Dan Neil.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We checked. We did dummy calls, too. We tried to use a little of his medicine against him." -- Broncos player-coach Jimmy Spencer on holding defenses until the last second to confuse Peyton Manning, generally regarded as one of the smartest quarterbacks in the league.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos will have to activate an extra cornerback considering Kelly Herndon's broken hand. And even though Adrian Madise had an 83-yard kickoff return last week, he also fumbled one, which is why I expect sure-handed Reuben Droughns to move back into that spot now that he's had an extra week to recover from sprained ankle.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

--CB Kelly Herndon began experimenting with different types of casts for his broken left hand. He wore one Wednesday and will wear different ones Thursday and Friday as he decides what offers the best protection without interfering with his play.

--RB Clinton Portis went through a full practice Wednesday, and should be 100 percent for Sunday's game barring any setbacks. He could be headed for a big day, especially with Colts strong safety Mike Doss not likely to play because of a sprained ankle.

--WR Ed McCaffrey returned to the practice field, an indication that the headaches from his second concussion in three games had subsided. That's good news for the veteran wide receiver, but trainers likely will keep a close eye on him to make sure he has no further symptoms.

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