The Broncos have been outscored 54-26 in the fourth quarter of games this season. Each of the past two weeks they've taken a big lead through three quarters and had to weather fourth-quarter comebacks to win the game.
"It worries me," Broncos defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. "We can't get lax. We did that last week, it's been two weeks in a row and you know what? One of these days it's going to catch up to us."
The Broncos needed a pass breakup by linebacker Ian Gold on a two-point conversion attempt to hang on to a 21-19 win against Washington.
Last week the Broncos led 28-3 against New England and looked like they were going to roll to a blowout victory. But New England scored the final 17 points of the game and had a chance to tie, down 28-20 with the ball and five minutes remaining. The Broncos got a stop and a couple of first downs on offense to seal the win.
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan didn't seem worried about his team's fourth quarter problems, and said that New England's comeback was in part because the Broncos had such a big lead.
"When you're up 28-3 and it's in the middle of the third quarter, common sense says there's going to be a little bit of a let-up," Shanahan said. "You try not to have it happen, but you do it against a team like New England and all of a sudden they get that momentum going."
The Broncos got a bit conservative on offense and defense when they took a 28-3 lead. Defensively, their game plan changed a bit when cornerback Champ Bailey's injured hamstring tightened up and he was removed from the game. Shanahan said Denver's big lead was a factor in Bailey being pulled.
"Being a veteran player like he is, he probably felt it was tight and looking at the game possibly in control, he decided not to play which was a good decision because it worked out all right," Shanahan said.
With Bailey in the game, the Broncos ran many blitzes to get pressure on New England quarterback Tom Brady. Without Bailey the Broncos use two rookies at cornerback with their first-team defense, and that made them change their play-calling a bit.
"Sometimes when you take too many chances with a guy like Champ out of there, when you want to man-to-man and blitz, you give them the big play," Shanahan said. "You have to do what you think you have to do to win."
Offensively, the Broncos completed only three passes for 21 yards from the time they went up 28-3 to their final drive. They were 1-of-5 on third-down conversions, not counting a final kneel down to kill the clock at the end of the game, after they were up 28-3. That did concern Shanahan.
"I felt very good about our team in the second half but you've got to convert those third downs," Shanahan said. "An area that we're going to have to improve on is third-down conversions."
SERIES HISTORY: 9th meeting. The series between the Denver Broncos and New York Giants is even at 4-4. The Giants did win the only postseason meeting, their first Super Bowl championship in Super Bowl XXI over the Broncos at the end of the 1986 season.
--Denver Broncos second-year linebacker D.J. Williams was arrested on Sept. 23 for driving under the influence of alcohol. His arrest was not reported until this week, and Williams said he regretted the incident.
"It was a mistake I made," Williams said. "I went out to a birthday party and probably should have had somebody else drive me home."
--Ashley Lelie finally caught a long pass last week, his first big play all season. He is important to the Broncos' offense because he is one of their few big-play threats, but quarterback Jake Plummer said he's not too concerned about getting Lelie more touches.
"Obviously, we want him to be involved," Plummer said. "He caught a few balls, but each week, you never know who it is going to be. That is one thing that has been nice so far; there are a lot of guys in this offense that are making plays for us."
--The Broncos have had their problems containing Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, and now they have to deal with his brother Eli. Denver faces Eli Manning for the first time when it travels to New York to play against the Giants this week, and they can see the similarities between the Manning brothers.
"Him and his brother look alike and behave alike, and have guns alike. They can throw it," Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said.
Eli Manning said he won't be talking much to Peyton about the success Peyton has had against Denver in the playoffs.
"I'll talk to him this week and it may come up but I don't think he's going to tell us something that we're going to put in our game plan," Manning said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 17 - The Broncos extended their streak of consecutive quarters without a turnover to 17 with a turnover-free game against New England.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are one of the deeper teams we have had, I believe, and we'll see at the end if we can keep it going." - Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on his team's depth.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos didn't bring in another safety for depth this week, even though starting strong safety Nick Ferguson is nursing a sprained ankle. Ferguson will probably play, although backup safety Sam Brandon will probably miss the game with a partially torn pectoral muscle.
Marques Anderson, who was picked up by the Broncos after he was cut in training camp by Oakland, would start if Ferguson and Brandon can't play. Cornerback Curome Cox, who played some safety in training camp, is the other safety on the roster.
The Broncos will miss Brandon, who was a regular in Denver's big nickel alignment because he matched up better against tight ends than a third cornerback. Brandon probably would have been used at least some to neutralize Jeremy Shockey.
--RB Ron Dayne will be returning to New York to face his former team, the Giants, this week. Dayne hasn't played much at tailback since he had a good game in Week 2 against San Diego. He has played special teams and Broncos coach Mike Shanahan insists he's still in the mix at tailback.
--CB Champ Bailey has two interceptions this season, but the Broncos haven't had an interception in two straight games. Denver has struggled over the past few years to get interceptions and the Broncos are stuck on four this season.
--LB D.J. Williams led the Broncos in tackles last year but his playing time was cut because Ian Gold, who was signed this off-season, plays in nickel packages. Williams is eighth on the Broncos in tackles this season.
--LB Keith Burns was re-signed for his ability on special teams and he is playing well. Burns leads Denver with nine special teams tackles. Nobody else on the team has more than four.
--FS John Lynch's role probably won't change much even if Nick Ferguson doesn't play. Marques Anderson can play strong or free safety if Ferguson can't go, so Lynch could stay in his usual role.
GAME PLAN: The Broncos should have opportunities to pass the ball. They have been pretty conservative in a 5-1 start, although they hit a couple of long plays in the passing game last week. The Giants are vulnerable in the secondary and if Denver can establish its running game early they can use their full set of play-action passes.
Denver will be effective if it can get a pass rush against Eli Manning. When Tom Brady had time last week to sit in the pocket, he had some success finding receivers. Denver has multiple blitzes in the playbook so Manning will have to be aware where the rush is coming from.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Giants CB Curtis Deloatch vs. Broncos WR Ashley Lelie. Deloatch is in the lineup for injured Will Peterson, which means Lelie gets another favorable matchup. Lelie seems to be warming up after a terrible start to the season but he needs to keep the momentum going this week against Deloatch and the Giants' porous secondary.
Broncos OT George Foster vs. Giants DE Michael Strahan. Foster is a little banged up with a sprained knee ligament, and the timing couldn't be worse. Strahan is still playing at a high level and Foster is still relatively inexperienced. The Broncos love to attack a defense's perimeter with their running game, which won't be as easy against New York's talented ends.
Broncos P Todd Sauerbrun vs. Giants KOR Willie Ponder and PR Chad Morton. Sauerbrun, who is also Denver's kickoff specialist, has been playing well. He was named the AFC special teams player of the week. He's a big reason the Broncos can be confident about slowing down the Giants' dangerous returners.
INJURY IMPACT: CB Champ Bailey practiced Wednesday and is listed as probable on the injury report. Bailey's hamstring tightened up during last Sunday's game but it appears he will be fine.
S Sam Brandon thinks he can return after Denver's bye in two weeks. Brandon is supposed to be out three weeks with a pectoral injury.
S Nick Ferguson is questionable on the injury report with an ankle injury but he was encouraged by the progress he has made. He practiced Wednesday, something he said he didn't think he'd be able to do when he hurt the ankle during Sunday's game.
T George Foster said he feels good even though he has a sprained knee ligament. He practiced and should play Sunday. Eventually, the Denver Broncos might not be able to withstand a fourth-quarter comeback. Their trend of finishing games with a thud hasn't hurt them yet, however.
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