Against Cincinnati on Sunday, Lynch flew around the field. The 35-year-old delivered two crushing hits in the first quarter. He drilled running back Rudi Johnson at the line of scrimmage, to the delight of the fans. Later, he nailed receiver Chris Henry as Henry tried to haul in a pass near the end zone. Henry fell to the turf and dropped the ball.
The Broncos are in the playoffs as a wild-card team if they beat San Francisco or the Chiefs lose to Jacksonville on Sunday. Lynch's huge hits are a big reason the Broncos beat the Bengals last week and are still alive in the race.
"Sometimes you can't discount the impact of that on a team," Lynch said. "It sets the tone for everyone, it gets everyone excited and making plays. You try to do what you can do, and I was able to get some good ones."
Coaches and teammates can tell Lynch is ready for another playoff run.
"He's like a daisy," defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. "He gets excited to play, he's a character man, and this man is talented."
Cornerback Darrent Williams said after Lynch's big hit on Johnson, Lynch came back to the huddle looking ecstatic.
"He had this big grin like I've never seen," Williams said. "I've seen him laugh like that in practice, but not in games. He was real excited. He told me he felt like he was 25 again, how he was going out there flying around, laying people out."
Lynch saved his biggest play for the fourth quarter. The Broncos weren't set as the Bengals, who ran a no-huddle offense most of the day, snapped the ball. Rudi Johnson ran right, Lynch avoided a couple of blockers and stuck his helmet on the ball Johnson cradled, popping it loose. The Broncos, who led by seven points at the time, recovered.
Lynch, who was tied for fourth on the Broncos in tackles when he was named to the Pro Bowl, is still a key figure on Denver's defense. He's good at helping middle linebacker Al Wilson get the players lined up correctly and he's capable of big plays like he made on Sunday. The Broncos also like the example he sets in the locker room.
"He plays like he's still hungry," Williams said. "He's got a Super Bowl ring, and some guys when they get Super Bowl rings and have been in the league so long and have made all the money, they get content. But John works hard every day in practice."
Being in the race seems to have rejuvenated Lynch, who said he was excited to play against the Bengals. Both teams felt they needed to win to make the playoffs.
"I feel great," Lynch said. "It felt like a playoff atmosphere from the start. The crowd was up, there was snow in the air, and it felt like football the way it's meant to be played. I was having a blast out there."
--The Broncos might have their playoff seed clinched by the time they play on Sunday. If the Chiefs lose to Jacksonville, they clinch a playoff spot. If the Jets also lose, the Broncos are guaranteed the fifth seed.
Broncos coach Mike Shanahan has rested starters in previous situations in which his team can't change its playoff seed. He said this time he wouldn't consider it.
"If I didn't do it last year, do you think I'd do it this year?" Shanahan said.
Last year, the Broncos had the second seed and a bye in the playoffs wrapped up. In 2003, the Broncos had their playoff seed clinched before kickoff and Shanahan rested many starters in a game at Green Bay.
--The Broncos were pleased to beat Cincinnati, obviously, because it kept them in the AFC playoff race. Also, it was nice to get a home win, which hasn't been automatic this year. The Broncos were 8-0 at home last year and have lost three at home already this year.
"That's something we pride ourselves on, is an 8-0 record at home," defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban said. "For some reason we haven't been able to get it done. Every home game we've lost we've been ahead at halftime and found a way to lose it."
--Running back Tatum Bell has 977 yards this season. He has only 79 yards in his last two weeks, as the 1,000-yard plateau remains just out of reach.
"I've got to be the slowest back to get 1,000," Tatum Bell said. "It means a lot because I feel like I should have had it last year."
BY THE NUMBERS: 59 -- Penalties the Broncos have committed, the fewest in the NFL. The franchise record for fewest penalties in a season is 63.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This is it, you got to let it all hang. If you're hurt, play hurt. That's it. If you got a bone sticking out, tape it up and play. That's just how it is now." -- Defensive end Kenard Lang on being in a playoff race late in the season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
After Sunday's game, Broncos coach Mike Shanahan made sure to mention that he still has faith in starting tailback Tatum Bell. However, after losing a costly fumble in each of the past two games, that confidence has to be waning a bit. Each time Bell lost a fumble, backup Mike Bell took most of the playing time the rest of the game.
Mike Bell responded with two strong games, so it's possible he could see a lot of playing time again this week against San Francisco. The Broncos want to get Tatum Bell back playing well before the playoffs, which the Broncos are hopeful they will be in.
PLAYER NOTES --RB Damien Nash has been inactive the past few weeks. If it looks like the Broncos might be locked into a playoff seed before they play on Sunday, Nash could see some playing time against the 49ers.
--DE Elvis Dumervil was awarded another sack off of Sunday's game at Cincinnati. Dumervil now leads the Broncos with eight sacks.
--RB Tatum Bell needs 23 yards in Sunday's game to reach 1,000 yards this season. Since Mike Shanahan took over as Broncos coach in 1995, only once has he not had a 1,000-yard rusher.
--CB Champ Bailey has nine interceptions this season. The rest of
the Broncos have seven interceptions. That's an unusual stat because
teams usually ignore Bailey and focus on throwing at other Broncos
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