Broncos Inside Slant - Oct. 28

The Broncos played by far their worst game of the season on Monday night at Cincinnati and strayed far from the formula that helped them to a 5-1 start. The offense, which had done a good job protecting the football, turned the ball over three times and scored only one touchdown. The defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense before Monday, gave up 321 yards, including some big plays.

The Broncos were either exposed last Monday night at Cincinnati or they had an aberration in an embarrassing 23-10 loss. They will try to bounce back on Sunday against Atlanta, with their lead in the AFC West down to only one game over the San Diego Chargers.

"We lost a game and we have to move on, that's the only thing we can do," quarterback Jake Plummer said. "I think we have the guys on this team with the character to move on."

The Broncos played by far their worst game of the season on Monday night at Cincinnati and strayed far from the formula that helped them to a 5-1 start. The offense, which had done a good job protecting the football, turned the ball over three times and scored only one touchdown. The defense, which was ranked No. 1 in the NFL in total defense before Monday, gave up 321 yards, including some big plays.

The only other loss for the Broncos this season was at Jacksonville, and they might have won that game if it wasn't for a fumbled handoff in the last minute that cost them a chance to kick a game-winning field goal.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he didn't do a good enough job preparing his team for the game against the Bengals, and he said he knows that the Falcons will be ready to make amends for their own loss last week, a 56-10 drubbing at Kansas City.

"They'll be ready to play just like we are," Shanahan said. "They were embarrassed Sunday, we were embarrassed Monday. So, you've got two football teams with the same record and trying to get back on track."

Shanahan said after Monday night's game that he thought his team might have lost focus, which could be a byproduct of having a commanding lead in the AFC West. Denver still leads Kansas City by two-and-a-half games and Oakland by three games, even after last week's loss.

The Broncos have a veteran team that should be able to put a bad loss behind them. But they have also blown great starts in each of the past two seasons and haven't won a division title since 1998, so they don't want to deal with another midseason losing streak.

"We have the guys, not just me, but guys like Rod (Smith) and Al (Wilson), guys like (John) Lynch, Champ (Bailey) and all those guys have been through some big losses," Plummer said. "That's all you can do is just bounce back the next week. What we do next week is what everybody will be talking about, not what we did last week."

SERIES HISTORY -- 11th meeting. The Broncos lead the regular-season series 7-3, and is 1-0 against Atlanta in the postseason with a victory in Super Bowl XXXIII. That Super Bowl was John Elway's last game. It was also the last time Denver has won a playoff game.

NOTES AND QUOTES

The NFL ruled that a cut block by Denver offensive tackle George Foster during Monday night's game at Cincinnati was legal.

The Bengals were upset with Foster for hitting Cincinnati defensive tackle Tony Williams low when Williams was pursuing Jake Plummer on a bootleg pass. Williams suffered a season-ending ankle injury on the play.

Foster defended himself after the game, saying he felt bad for Williams but there was nothing wrong with the play.

Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, after hearing criticism for the cut blocking his team does, showed a video to the media on Wednesday which depicted players from other teams doing the same thing.

"It goes on every week in the National Football League," Shanahan said. "It's been going on for years and years and years."

Jacksonville end Paul Spicer's season also ended when he was blocked low and suffered a broken leg in a game against Denver earlier this season.

--DT Ellis Johnson was traded from Atlanta to Denver early in the regular season after Johnson refused to play for the Falcons unless he got a new contract. The Broncos traded a conditional 2005 draft pick for him.

Johnson has played in passing situations for the Broncos and has eight tackles and a sack.

"It's another football game," Johnson said. "It's just another game for me, really."

--The Broncos will get to see former offensive line coach Alex Gibbs, who coaches the Falcons' line now. Gibbs was credited with having a big part in the Broncos' success in the running game since Shanahan took over as Denver's head coach in 1995.

BY THE NUMBERS 179 -- Jason Elam has scored in 179 straight games, the third longest streak in NFL history. Elam is on pace to pass Jim Breech's 186 straight games with a point later this season, but is still well behind Morten Andersen's record of 322 consecutive games.

QUOTE TO NOTE "I was a little offended with Bill Cowher's statement, because they do it." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on comments by Steelers coach Bill Cowher that he doesn't condone cut blocking.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Broncos lost running back Quentin Griffin for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee, an injury he suffered against Cincinnati last week. Denver placed Griffin on injured reserve.

The Broncos elevated Cecil Sapp, who can play fullback or tailback, from the practice squad to replace Griffin and signed running back Kris Briggs to the practice squad.

Sapp, who played in college at Colorado State, was activated for Denver's final game last season and rushed for 31 yards on 12 carries at Green Bay.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--Tight end Jeb Putzier's production this season has been up and down. He had 108 yards combined in Week 3 and 4, then was held without a catch in Week 5. He had 52 yards and a touchdown the next week, then followed that with another game without a catch last Monday. Putzier is still a big part of Denver's offense as its best pass-catching tight end.

--Running back Garrison Hearst will probably be Denver's top backup at tailback this week with Tatum Bell listed as doubtful on the injury report. Hearst has been inactive in four of Denver's seven games this season but should be fresh.

--Defensive end Anton Palepoi was active on Monday even though fellow pass rusher Patrick Chukwurah was also active after missing a game with a quadriceps injury. Palepoi could be a part of Denver's nickel defensive package at least until Trevor Pryce returns from injury.

--Cornerback Willie Middlebrooks played pretty well last Monday in his return from a hamstring injury. Middlebrooks, a former first-round pick, had made a minimal contribution before this season but the Broncos are happy with the strides he has made in Denver's nickel package this season.

--Quarterback Jake Plummer had some trouble against Cincinnati on Monday because the Bengals played Denver's play-action bootleg play so well. Plummer said the Bengals didn't do anything that different than what the Broncos had seen before, but Cincinnati had timely defensive calls to stop the bootleg when the Broncos called it.

GAME PLAN

The Broncos have to fix what went wrong last Monday. They made mistakes that led to turnovers on offense and big plays given up by the defense, which is exactly what they avoided during a 5-1 start.

Denver has allowed a couple of 100-yard rushing games this season, and Atlanta has been pretty good running the ball. The Broncos defense has to maintain its gap responsibility, after breakdowns hurt them against Cincinnati. Look for cornerback Champ Bailey to play with a chip on his shoulder after struggling against Bengals receiver Chad Johnson last week. Bailey will probably be matched up against Peerless Price.

Denver's offense was able to move the ball against Cincinnati but the Broncos weren't dominant. Atlanta is coming off a hideous game stopping Kansas City's run game, so the Broncos may be able to exploit some of the weaknesses that were exposed.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Denver LBs vs. Atlanta QB Michael Vick. The Broncos haven't faced Vick, the most dangerous quarterback in the league. Either Al Wilson or D.J. Williams will probably be used to shadow Vick at times and all of Denver's linebackers will be in charge of making sure Vick doesn't get too many plays scrambling.

--Atlanta's offensive line vs. Denver's defensive line. Former Broncos offensive line coach Alex Gibbs has taught the Falcons all he knows -- which is his zone blocking scheme and a propensity to cut block. The Broncos know Gibbs' tricks, which could be good or bad. Knowing what is coming might slow them down, because they'll have to be watching their legs.

INJURY IMPACT

--CB Lenny Walls didn't play last Sunday because of a shoulder injury but could return this week. Walls returned to practice last week after dislocating his right shoulder two weeks ago, but the Broncos are being cautious with him.

--DE Trevor Pryce won't practice this week and won't play against Atlanta on Sunday. The Broncos have ruled out Pryce playing a week after that against Houston, but Denver has their bye week in two weeks and they will probably sit Pryce until after the bye.

--RB Tatum Bell has a hamstring injury that could keep him out of Sunday's game. Bell has been set back by finger and rib injuries already this season, one of the reasons he fell behind in picking up the offense.

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