Around the League - Saturday, Oct. 15

If the Denver Broncos want to beat the defending champion New England Patriots this week, they'll have to improve upon a mediocre performance against the Washington Redskins last week. Catch up on the latest Hot Topics about the Broncos in this edition of "Around the League."

It appears that Tommy Maddox will start at quarterback Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers when they play the Jacksonville Jaguars at Heinz Field.

Maddox went through his second full day of practice Thursday with no ill effects from the right calf muscle injury from last Friday. Maddox did not make the trip to San Diego for Monday night's game, but was ready to go when the team returned.

Coach Bill Cowher, who listed Maddox as questionable on Wednesday, upgraded him to probable on Thursday.

Ben Roethlisberger, injured in the final Minute of Pittsburgh's 24-22 victory in San Diego, remained doubtful with a hyperextended and bruised knee. But he threw some passes in practice and lightly jogged before watching team drills on the sideline. Roethlisberger likely will serve as the No. 3 quarterback Sunday.

Cowher dubbed Charlie Batch, normally the No. 3 quarterback, as the starter on Tuesday "by default." The coach said that could change, and in one day's time it apparently has.

But how did Maddox heal so quickly from an injury that supposedly was to sideline him for three to four weeks?

"I'm always a fast healer," Maddox said. "I came back from being paralyzed in two weeks, you know?"

Maddox was temporarily paralyzed from a hit in Tennessee on Nov. 17, 2002 and had no feeling in his lower extremities as they carried him off the field on a board. He regained his feeling that night and missed just two starts.

Maddox earned the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award that season and helped the Steelers to a 10-5-1 record, a playoff victory against Cleveland and then an overtime loss in Tennessee. His and the team's fortunes dipped in 2003, Roethlisberger was drafted in the first round in 2004 and Maddox lost his starting job after a serious elbow injury in the second game opened the door for the rookie.

Maddox's last start came Jan. 2 in the 2004 season finale at Buffalo when Roethlisberger, who had sore ribs, was held out of a meaningless game for the 15-1 Steelers.

Maddox has not thrown a pass this season. He relieved Roethlisberger in the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh's 34-7 opening victory against Tennessee and handed off to complete the rout.

The Steelers have perhaps the best backup quarterback position in the league with Maddox and Batch, both veterans and former starters.

"I think they're pretty comfortable with all three guys we have here," Maddox said. "Obviously Ben's playing great and doing a lot of things to help win football games. If he can't go, we'll have to step up. We'll just wait and see. I think we're all ready, all champing at the bit and ready to go.

"You look around the league, even in week 4 and week 5 there are a lot of teams that wish they had that, that have gone through injuries and signing guys and bringing guys back. It's a tough position that way. You look at this team, not only at our position but at a lot of key positions, there have been guys who stepped up and played well. That's a tribute to the organization."

DENVER BRONCOS

HOT TOPIC

If the Denver Broncos want to beat the defending champion New England Patriots this week, they'll have to improve upon a mediocre performance against the Washington Redskins last week.

The Broncos allowed 447 yards to the Redskins, who aren't known for their explosive offense. Denver hung on to the win when linebacker Ian Gold batted away a pass on a two-point conversion with a little more than a minute to go.

Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said the breakdowns on defense didn't happen because the Broncos were outmanned. They just made a lot of mental mistakes.

"That's concerning," Coyer said. "What happens is if they beat you, that's one thing. If you beat yourself, that's another thing. We've got to quit having those penalties and we've got to not have missed assignments. Because it's hard enough to win as it is."

Coyer said the mistakes, which included lining up in the wrong spots and some defensive penalties, were uncharacteristic for Denver's defense this season. Denver had played stifling defense for three straight weeks before the game against Washington.

Broncos safety Nick Ferguson wasn't that worried about the mistakes because he expected the defensive players wouldn't repeat them.

"The mistakes that were made on Sunday were correctable mistakes," Ferguson said. "If you get physically, you can't do anything about that. If you get beat because of a couple mental mistakes, you can overcome that."

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Champ Bailey only participated in limited reps during practice Thursday. The Broncos will wait to test until later in the week to his injured hamstring at full speed but his chances of playing do not appear that strong.
--RB Tatum Bell was put on the injury report this week with a toe injury, but he has practiced all week. He is listed as questionable and shouldn't be hindered at all.
--QB Jake Plummer has been taking care of the ball this season. That's a big reason Denver has gone more than three games without a turnover. The last time Denver turned the ball over was in the third quarter of its Week 2 game against San Diego. They have a streak of 13 straight quarters without a turnover.
--K Jason Elam and Patriots K Adam Vinatieri are the top two scorers in the NFL since the start of the 1996 season. The Broncos and Patriots face each other on Sunday.
--C Tom Nalen moved into seventh on the Broncos' all-time list with his 156th career start last Sunday. Nalen should move into sixth, past CB Louis Wright, before the season is over.



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