Higher power -- altitude -- aiding Broncos
Matt Prater was trying to explain Denver's latest
comeback victory Sunday and was at a loss for words.
"You can't really explain it," he said. "Maybe you
say it is a higher power."
Or perhaps it's Prater powerful leg at altitude
and below that provides a glimpse into the Broncos' current 7-1 run
heading into Sunday's home game against New England.
Over the last three games, Prater has tied the
game twice in regulation and hit three 'walk-off' field goals.
His performance Sunday was a showcase for a kicker
who has been the most consistent ever at the longest of distances.
With a 59-yarder to tie Chicago, then a 51-yarder
in OT to win it, Prater is now 12 of 16 (75 percent) in his career from
50-plus. That's the best accuracy rate ever for kickers with at least
10 attempts. Tony Zendejas ranks second at 73.9 percent.
"I don't ever worry about distance," said Prater,
who once nailed a 74-yard field goal with room to spare in training
camp. "I just try to hit them straight. That's the big thing."
For all the talk of quarterback Tim Tebow's clutch
qualities, Prater ranks right up there with him. He's now made 28 of 29
career kicks in the fourth quarter and overtime since breaking into the
league in 2007. His only miss came in a win at Kansas City from 41
yards on Nov. 13.
Asked about his confidence level when Prater steps
out on the field for a long kick earlier this week, linebacker Wesley Woodyard leaned back in his chair. "I sit back like this," he said with
a smile, "and think, 'Prater's the man.'"
Prater had some difficulties during a four-week
stretch beginning with the game at Miami, missing four kicks from the
40-49 range. But over the next three games he would hit all six of his
attempts -- including both from those distances.
Prater last Sunday had put aside an early block by
the Bears' Julius Peppers -- the kicker's first miss after 39 straight
from under 40 yards -- before his two critical kicks late to beat
"We've kind of got this joke, me and Prater, about
who's the best kicker in the league," said Woodyard, Denver's
special-teams captain. "When we face a certain kicker that gets all
these accolades, Prater will be like, 'I'm better than that guy,' and
I'll say, 'I know you are, cap!' It's just that camaraderie we have. He
has that with a lot of guys. Everybody believes in him."
Prater is second in franchise history in
field-goal accuracy at 78.1 percent, behind only Jason Elam (80.6).
He's also produced 110 touchbacks since 2008, most
in the NFL.
"We have great confidence in him, really at any
range," coach John Fox said. "There's no doubt his leg strength is a
weapon, particularly here at home with the altitude."
Broncos Mindet Changing with Win Streak
The mindset has changed as much as the standings.
Seven wins in eight games, many of the comeback
variety, has helped the thought process. Sitting atop the AFC West by
one game, with tiebreakers also in hand, doesn't hurt, either.
"I feel like after this win, the guys just want
it," wide receiver Demaryius Thomas said Monday, one day after the
Broncos improved to 8-5 with an overtime decision over Chicago. "They
want to go to the playoffs -- go deeper and deeper every week."
It's hard to put a finger on whether winning
created new-found confidence or if it was the other way around.
But subtle changes this summer hinted that maybe
this might be a different Denver team than the five previous clubs that
failed to reach the postseason -- and that it was miles removed from
last year's 4-12 debacle as far as camaraderie.
"This has been probably the most fun I've ever had
playing football," kicker Matt Prater said. "Where in the past you kind
of feel like you're just going to your job, now it's back to high
school football -- where you're playing with all your friends and
you've got all their backs and all that stuff."
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard explained that, without
organized training activities due to the NFL's labor unrest, the team
had to find a way to get closer as a team. Bonding time, whether in
camp practices, or in hotel scenarios with Denver often leaving a day
early for games, was taken seriously -- and worked.
The defense didn't close the ranks, nor did the
offense, which may have surfaced last season in small part while things
fell apart on the field.
"There wasn't separation between us," Woodyard
said about the mood around last year's team. "But certain situations
certain people stick to certain people.
"This year, everybody is gravitating towards each
other. It's weird the connection that linebackers have with offensive
linemen -- that hardly ever happens. Little things like that keep our
Woodyard pointed to the Miami trip, which
coincided with Tim Tebow's first start at quarterback, as a turning
point in that regard. Offensive and defensive players exchanged stories
about how they felt about the other side of the ball. The viewpoints
were similar, demonstrating how alike the thought process was
throughout the roster.
Players who were once segmented on Denver's roster
now go over each other's houses to hang out.
There are no offense/defense/special teams
barriers, helped by the fact, as Woodyard put it, "everybody's genuine."
"I think somewhere it hit us that football is
important, and for us to be successful, we've got to start in the
locker room and build those relationships," Woodyard added.
"Sometimes you have to tear down walls that are
there if you want to win. There's going to come situations where you
have to depend on that guy, you have to be able to depend on him during
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