Remember Pittsburgh: Broncos look to ’05 comeback for hope
Summit County, CO ColoradoDENVER – After stumbling to a 7-5 record, the Denver Broncos are now drawing on the Pittsburgh Steelers for inspiration.The Steelers rallied from that same record last season to make the playoffs and win the Super Bowl.”That’s what we’re basing our season on now – what they did,” tight end Stephen Alexander said. “They showed us there’s hope. This season hasn’t gone the way we would’ve liked, but it’s not over.”The 2006 Broncos resemble the 2005 Steelers in a lot of ways after 12 games. Pittsburgh was ranked 20th in total offense and Denver is 22nd. The Steelers were 10th in total defense and the Broncos are 13th. Pittsburgh’s special teams were struggling (25th in opposing kick-return average) and so is Denver’s unit (31st in the same category).The difference is at quarterback. The Steelers rallied their way to the Super Bowl behind Ben Roethlisberger, who went 15-1 in 2004 season and showed he could lead a team. The Broncos have handed the keys to rookie Jay Cutler, who started his first game last Sunday night against Seattle and struggled, throwing two interceptions.”I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect,” Cutler said. “I knew I was going to make mistakes. I’ve just go to get better and keep working.”With five teams in the AFC tied at 7-5, the Broncos have little wiggle room if they want to make the playoffs for the fourth straight year. To make their assignment more difficult, they’re playing in San Diego against one of the NFL’s hottest teams (the Chargers have won six straight) and best running backs (LaDainian Tomlinson has scored 26 touchdowns this season and is three away from breaking Shaun Alexander’s touchdown record set last season).”I think the good thing is, if there is anything positive, that if we can go out and take care of business the next few weeks then we’re still in the playoffs,” Alexander said. “Pittsburgh showed last year that once you get there, anything can happen. I guess that’s a good thing.”The Steelers’ last four opponents in 2005 had a combined record of 24-24. Denver’s final four teams have a 25-23 record. Pittsburgh beat a good Chicago team 21-9 in Week 14 to end a three-game losing streak and start its run to the playoffs. Denver has to beat a good San Diego squad – the Charges are 10-2 – to make a similar sprint to the postseason. The Broncos have lost three in a row coming into the game Sunday, their longest slide since 2003.”We can’t do anything if we don’t win this game,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “We need to get it together this week and go out and fight for this win.”It’s against this Chargers team that Denver’s season began to unravel. Denver had a 24-7 lead in the third quarter against San Diego on Nov. 19 but couldn’t hold it, losing 35-27.”It’s going to be a little bit of added (desire) because of the mere fact we squandered a 17-point lead,” backup linebacker and special teams captain Keith Burns said. “Hopefully we’ll get that opportunity (to have a big lead) again and we won’t squander it this time.”For Denver, the playoffs begin early – as in this Sunday.”It’s no time to look back, just forward,” Alexander said. “We have four weeks of playoffs now. Every game counts. We’re in the same shoes as Pittsburgh (last season). I wouldn’t say they’re the best-fitting shoes I’ve ever been in, but that’s the hand we’ve been dealt.”
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