Uncertainty at Quarterback

After a two-game losing streak, some Broncos fans started to wonder how good quarterback Kyle Orton was. They found out in a hurry how valuable he was in an ugly loss at Washington.

Orton had 193 yards by halftime against the Redskins, but he injured his ankle on the final play of the first half and didn't return. Chris Simms had 13 yards passing in his place, the Broncos didn't score after halftime and lost 27-17.

Denver goes into a key AFC West game against San Diego with plenty of uncertainty at quarterback. Orton said after Sunday's game he hoped to play, but the Broncos were uncertain about his status and Simms was at least figuring he might have to start.

"As of right now, I'm anticipating it, yes," Simms said.

If Simms has to play, he should be better with a week of practice with the first team. He looked very rusty against Washington, which wasn't unexpected. He completed 3 of 13 passes and the Broncos managed only three first downs after halftime.

Simms admitted it was a tough assignment. He didn't play in any of Denver's first eight regular-season games and even missed the final two preseason games with an ankle injury.

"I missed a few things, and maybe rhythm and timing was off," Simms said. "It's been a while since I've thrown to guys like Jabar (Gaffney) and Brandon Marshall."

Simms' late timing was a reason for the Broncos' most devastating play. On first-and-10 inside Redskins territory in the fourth quarter of a tie game, Simms threw a deep pass to Marshall. But Simms admitted he was late on the throw, and it hung up in the air, allowing cornerback DeAngelo Hall to intercept it. Washington scored the game-winning touchdown on the ensuing drive.

The Broncos hope that Orton can bounce back. He has played through pain before, but they need him to be effective in a huge game. The Broncos suddenly find themselves tied with the Chargers for first place in the AFC West after leading the division by three-and-a-half games four weeks ago.

"It's a tough sport and it happens," Orton said. "You have to try to play through it. I was hoping to come back out and I wasn't able to. Hopefully I'll be ready to go next week."

TRENDING: After allowing less than 100 rushing yards in each of their first six games, the Broncos have allowed 125, 173 and 174 on the ground during a three-game losing streak. The Broncos aren't playing with any consistency, and Broncos coach Josh McDaniels lamented that players are trying to avoid blocks instead of taking them on, which has opened up holes. The Broncos could also benefit if they weren't on the field so long. In each of the last three games they have lost time of possession by a wide margin in the second half as the offense sputtered.

LINEUP WATCH: After a first-quarter fumble, Correll Buckhalter didn't get another carry. Knowshon Moreno ran the ball well, getting 97 yards on 18 carries. After the game McDaniels explained that he went with Moreno because he was playing well, not because Buckhalter fumbled. Going forward, expect Moreno to maintain a big share of the carries in the running game.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--RB Peyton Hillis was a healthy scratch against Washington. Hillis hasn't been a big part of the offense all season, running fourth at tailback. Spencer Larsen played fullback against the Redskins.

--WR Brandon Marshall had 134 yards on five catches including two long touchdowns against Washington. He needs Kyle Orton to return quickly, or his numbers could take a dip.

--TE Tony Scheffler was a big part of Denver's game plan against Washington, playing often and catching three passes in the first half. Like the rest of the Broncos' offense, he struggled after Chris Simms relieved Kyle Orton.

--S Brian Dawkins had a team-high 14 tackles against Washington. At 36 years old, Dawkins is still playing at a very high level.

--P Mitch Berger continued his inconsistency, with a 16-yard punt against Washington, followed by a 65-yard punt. The Broncos need Berger, who replaced an up-and-down Brett Kern after six games, to cut out the poor kicks.



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