New York Jets (2-7) at Denver Broncos (7-2)
KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 ET
TV: CBS, Kevin Harlan, Randy Cross
SERIES: 30th meeting. The series between the Denver Broncos and New York Jets is tied 14-14-1. However, the Broncos have the lone postseason win and it was a big one - Denver beat the Jets in the 1998 AFC Championship game. That turned out to be John Elway's last home game.
2005 RANKINGS: Jets: offense 30th (28th rush, 27th pass); defense 11th (29th rush, 7th pass). Broncos: offense 4th (2nd rush, 21st pass); defense 23rd (4th rush, 28th pass)
PREDICTION: Broncos 23-9
KEYS TO THE GAME: It will be up to the Jets to turn the tides of a game in which they do not match up well. New York's run defense allowing 135.3 yards per game goes up against a running attack averaging 165.2 yards, and the Jets' struggling passing game figures to have a difficult time taking advantage of one of the Broncos' few shaky spots -- the secondary. The Jets simply cannot afford to fall behind because they don't have the weapons to mount a comeback. It's essential for RB Curtis Martin to make early headway while running behind a patchwork offensive line. If not, the Broncos will control the clock and the scoreboard with their own running game. QB Jake Plummer is flourishing during the best decision-making season of his career, but the Jets still want to put him in position to have to win the game with his arm.
FAST FACTS: Jets: Martin needs 26 rushing yards to become the fourth player in NFL history with 14,000. ... Martin needs one 100-yard rushing game to tie Jim Brown (59) for sixth-most all-time. Broncos: Plummer has not thrown an interception in 29 consecutive quarters and 193 passes. ... Are 29-14 against the NFC under coach Mike Shanahan, including 18-4 at home.
--QB Jay Fiedler (shoulder) could return to limited action next month, Jets coach Herm Edwards indicated Thursday. Edwards speculated that Fiedler might be able to play Dec. 4 at New England or Dec. 11 against Oakland.
--C Pete Kendall (back) returned to practice Thursday, yet still is listed as questionable for the Jets' game at Denver. Kendall admitted, "I may have benefited through the wonders of pharmacology" against Carolina, when he played the whole game despite the injury with the help of painkillers.
--LB Kenyatta Wright (ankle/knee), a key special-teamer, returned to practice Thursday but still is listed as questionable.
--FB B.J. Askew (hamstring), a key player on special teams, didn't practice Thursday. Coach Herm Edwards said he doesn't expect Askew to play Sunday.
--RB Cedric Houston, Curtis Martin's backup, will get some carries against Denver, coach Herm Edwards reiterated Thursday. The Jets have been reluctant to give many carries to Martin's backups.
--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.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
One day after he made some slightly ambiguous comments in his daily news conference, Jets coach Herm Edwards tried once again to quell all the speculation.
"Maybe I didn't say it loud enough or hard enough, whatever," he said Thursday. "I'm going to be here as long as I can be here. Hopefully it's my whole career and I don't have to go anywhere else, to be quite honest with you."
Edwards denied rumors Wednesday of a potential move to Kansas City to be the Chiefs coach if Dick Vermeil chooses to retire. However, Edwards dodged the question of whether he would return next year under his current contract, which runs out after 2007. It's believed Edwards would like an extension.
Edwards, apparently feeling he was misinterpreted, took the unusual step of calling several reporters Wednesday night to clarify his remarks and reiterate his loyalty to the Jets. He continued on that same tack Thursday.
"I've got a lot invested here," he said. "There's a lot of things we've done as an organization, not just on the football field, but off the football field, in the community, in this building. That's a lot of sweat. Everything we've tried to do to make it better, five years of investment. That's how I am, though, I'm loyal that way. I'm a loyal guy. I was taught that by my parents. Stake your claim, stay here, keep working to make it better. You have to do what's right. I've always been that way."
Edwards said that he felt the same way when he was assistant head coach, but not a coordinator, under Tony Dungy at Tampa Bay. That was before Edwards became the Jets' first black head coach in 2001.
"I had opportunities to go other places and I wouldn't go because I felt loyal to the people," Edwards added. "When I was working for Tony Dungy, I had a lot of opportunities to go and be a coordinator and I wouldn't leave."
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."
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