Den­ver not used to drama of late games

But team prac­tices dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios dur­ing prac­tice.

Austin American-Statesman - - C SPORTS - By Ed­die Pells

EN­GLE­WOOD, COLO. — Last year, the Den­ver Broncos had plenty of prac­tice — fall be­hind, stay close, go into hurry-up mode late and find some way to pull out a game with hardly any time left.

This year, about the only thing the Broncos are per­fect­ing late in games is how to line up in vic­tory for­ma­tion.

With a game against the Chiefs (2-13) coming up Sun­day, odds are against the Broncos (13-2) fi­nally get­ting a dose of late-game drama. That means they could very well go into the post­sea­son with­out hav­ing once en­dured the stress of need­ing the make-or­break score in 2012.

Not even Pey­ton Man­ning, who loves to re­hearse ev­ery sit­u­a­tion and ev­ery sce­nario as many times as pos­si­ble with his new team, can give the Broncos the re­al­time prac­tice they need in that de­part­ment.

“You can’t do any­thing about chang­ing the out­come of the game,” Man­ning said. “You try to sim­u­late game-like sce­nar­ios in prac­tice. It’s not quite the same as a game, so that’s some­thing coach Fox and the staff have tried to do all sea­son long.”

Through 15 games, the Broncos haven’t faced a sin­gle one that has come down to the wire. Two of their three losses came by less than a touch­down, but in the 27-21 loss to At­lanta, they didn’t have the ball at the end, and in the 31-25 loss to Hous­ton, they got it back with 20 sec­onds and no time­outs at their 14-yard line — only time for a com­ple­tion, a spike, des­per­a­tion play.

Mean­while, the Broncos’ 10-game win­ning streak has come by an av­er­age mar­gin of 14 points. They’ve won three of those games by eight and an­other by seven — close enough to give the de­fense prac­tice at some ver­sion of the pre­vent and the of­fense work on the run-heavy, clock-killing “four-minute drill.”

But when it comes to that des­per­a­tion drive with the clock run­ning out, the kind per­fected in this city by John El­way in the 1980s and 90s — nada.

Prac­tice sit­u­a­tions, says of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Mike McCoy, can take a team only so far.

“The most im­por­tant thing as a coach is to pre­pare your play­ers for that,” he said. “We talk about si­t­u­a­tional foot­ball ev­ery day. If this sit­u­a­tion comes up, what would we do? On the week­ends af­ter you see cer­tain games, as a staff you talk about cer­tain sit­u­a­tions in other games and then you try to re­lay that mes­sage to the play­ers.”

Last sea­son, the Broncos had no short­age of real-life, late-game stress sit­u­a­tions. With Tim Te­bow at quar­ter­back, they got the win­ning score in six games in the last two min­utes of reg­u­la­tion or over­time.

This sea­son, Man­ning has, in fact, en­gi­neered three game-win­ning drives in the fourth quar­ter to bring his ca­reer to­tal to 48, the most in the NFL since the 1970 merger. But none of th­ese has been a nail-biter.

Eric Decker, who has been in Den­ver for Te­bow and Man­ning, said ev­ery prac­tice this year in­cludes two-minute drills and lots of sce­nar­ios “just to make sure we have things planned be­fore we get into it.”

“But we have a lot of guys in this locker room who were here last year,” Decker said.

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