Among the Denver Broncos' 22 regular starters on offense and defense, the team has lost four games to injuries this season. That's two fewer games than New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington has missed by himself this season.
The Broncos and Jets, both 10-6 wild-card teams in the AFC last season, had high expectations coming into this season. But myriad injuries have led to a 2-7 record for the Jets. The Broncos are in first place in the AFC West at 7-2 and realize they are fortunate not to have dealt with the injury problems the Jets have encountered.
"Sometimes when you have key injuries and guys getting hurt, it's always hard to come back from that," Broncos safety Nick Ferguson said. "This is a good team that has been put in a bad situation by injuries."
The Broncos listed five players on this week's injury report, all probable. They haven't had a major injury to a starter all season. Cornerback Champ Bailey was out for two games with a hamstring injury and has been slowed most of the season.
Denver also avoided any major injuries to starters in 1997 and 1998, the two seasons in which they won the Super Bowl, and both years they couldn't afford to lose many players.
"In our Super Bowl years, we weren't deep at all," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "I think we lost one guy each year. We were very fortunate."
Broncos safety John Lynch said he had no good explanation for the Broncos avoiding injuries while the Jets have suffered all season.
"You can prepare real hard sometimes, but it's luck," Lynch said. "We've been fortunate."
--CB Roc Alexander struggled with a hamstring injury for most of the first half of the season, but now he has a chance to make an impact as a kickoff returner. The Broncos want to keep CB Darrent Williams fresh, so they replaced him with Alexander on kickoff returns. Alexander has good straight-ahead speed that makes him a good fit for the spot.
--WR Rod Smith has 47 catches this season. That is 22 more than anyone else on the Broncos and as many as the second- and third-most on the team combined.
--QB Jake Plummer hasn't run much this season. Last year he rushed for 202 yards, but this season he has only 76 yards rushing on 28 attempts. Plummer underwent minor knee surgery in the offseason, and that might be limiting his scrambling somewhat.
--C Tom Nalen is having one of his best seasons. The coaching staff gives him a lot of credit for keeping Denver's running game near the top of the league. Nalen is athletic and can get to the second level of the defense in the running game.
--CB Darrent Williams' punt return average is up to 9.6 yards per attempt. That average is inflated a little because he has two long returns. He had a 52-yard return against Oakland, but he hasn't been very consistent.
AROUND THE LEAGUE:
Priest Holmes says he won't decide whether to play in 2006 until he undergoes another couple of rounds of follow-up medical exams on the head and neck injuries that sidelined him for the final eight games of the 2005 season.
Speaking to reporters at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday, the Pro Bowl running back said he plans to return to the Chiefs next season if the results of the tests are favorable.
"Why wouldn't I?" he said.
Holmes, who was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 9 for head and neck trauma, disputed reports that he had a lump on his neck and that he had decided to retire. He said he is not worried about the continued pounding his body would take if he continues his career.
"I mean, pounding is just a part of football," he said. "I love this sport, and it has really been good to me in terms of a number of things it has done for my family. I can tell you one thing, I am not one to look 20 or 30 years down the road. I really look at the next two to three or even five years, and I really see myself playing. I am hoping that the situation with the tests I take in the next 60 days comes back positive.
"Regardless of that, I still have to sit down and make a decision."
Holmes, 32, has already been examined by specialists in California and Florida since he suffered a concussion in a game against San Diego. He said he is confident the next round of tests will show he can continue to play.
"The main concern was that (doctors) wanted to know if there was pressure on the spine," he said. "If there's pressure on the spine, of course, if you're hit, there's a number of things that could possibly happen. Would those things happen to me? It hasn't happened yet.
"So I'm very, very confident about the recovery time and the number of things I have to go through."
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