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Broncos find a way to grind out a win

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Recent posts by Eli Kaberon

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Posted Sept. 19, 2011 @ 4:47 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

Combined, RB Knowshon Moreno, WR Brandon Lloyd, DE Elvis Dumervil, LB D.J. Williams and CB Champ Bailey will rake in more than $27 million this season from the Broncos. As the team's top playmakers on both sides of the ball, the five players make up Denver's leading rusher, receiver, tackler and interceptor in 2010. And Dumervil, who missed all of last season with an injury, led the NFL in sacks in '09.

All five players can do damage with pads and a helmet on. With a hooded sweatshirt and baseball cap — not so much.

Unfortunately for the Broncos, the latter was the uniform all five players wore on Sunday when the team took on the Bengals. Because of a rash of early-season injuries, the entire group of playmakers was listed as inactive. Yet the team was able to rally and grab the first win of the John Fox era, improving to 1-1 after holding on for a 24-22 victory over the Bengals.   

The PFW Spin

"Next man up" has been Fox's mantra this season when discussing injuries, saying that backups will need to perform at the same level as the high-priced stars if the team wants to be competitive. That happened on Sunday, with reserves on both sides of the ball making key contributions.

No backup made a bigger impact than Moreno's replacement, Willis McGahee. The Broncos handed the veteran back the ball 28 times — the most carries he has received in a game since 2007 — and it paid off, with McGahee rushing for 101 yards and a touchdown. No longer the gamebreaker he once was, McGahee used exceptional vision and toughness to grind out his yards, pounding away time after time against the Bengals' front. Though he never gained more than 12 yards on a rush, McGahee proved to be a more-than-capable fill-in and showed why Denver pursued him so strongly in the offseason.

Also helping out on the offense was WR Eric Decker, who became the team's primary wideout with Lloyd on the sideline and the team's only wideout (other than third-string QB Tim Tebow) once Eddie Royal left in the second quarter with a groin injury. Despite the increased attention from the Cincinnati "D," the second-year pro had the best game of his career, making five catches for 113 yards and scoring two touchdowns. That included an athletic 52-yard fourth-quarter touchdown, where Decker boxed out a pair of Bengals defensive backs to haul in the pass, then showed his breakaway speed to reach the endzone. The score gave Denver a 24-15 lead.

On the other side of the ball, the play of Bailey's replacement, Cassius Vaughn, made a big difference. The former undrafted rookie played like an established vet, recording five tackles and adding a pair of passes defensed. Although the Bengals threw for 310 yards, Vaughn was more than capable filling in for Bailey.

If McGahee, Decker and Vaughn were all one-game wonders, the Broncos are in big trouble. The team has road tests against a feisty Titans club this week and big-time matchups with the Packers and Chargers before they reach their bye. Some of the injured starters should be back for those games, but at the rate the injury bug has infested the team thus far, nothing is guaranteed.

Fox has to like seeing that the next man on the depth chart stepped up, although I'm sure he'd prefer to see the top player at each position in a football uniform instead.

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