Fox says downshifting in Denver isn't permanent

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The downshifting of Denver's high-octane offense doesn't mean the Broncos won't ''put our foot on the gas and throw it 50 times,'' insists coach John Fox.

So, the San Diego Chargers had better buckle up and get ready this week for either a gouging ground game or a return to the aerial fireworks.

''At the end of the day it's all about `Ws,''' said running back C.J. Anderson, whose legs are getting much more of a workout lately than Peyton Manning's right arm.

The buzz surrounding the Broncos (10-3) a month ago was that they were throwing the ball too much. Now the teeter-totter has gone the other way, and there's concern that their run-heavy offense has gotten Manning out of rhythm.

The hurry-up has become the huddle-up, and more often than not, the five-time MVP is turning around and handing the ball off rather than chucking it down the field.

Over the last three weeks, Manning has handed off 102 times and thrown it 89 times, completing 59 of those.

In Denver's 24-17 win over Buffalo on Sunday, Manning didn't throw any touchdown passes for the first time in his 49 games as a Bronco. He had two interceptions and his passer rating of 56.9 was his lowest since Nov. 30, 2008, at Cincinnati, when it was a paltry 46.8.

Concerned Broncos fans and flustered fantasy football owners are debating whether this shift is a concession to age - Manning is 38 - or a fundamental change in Denver's drive to return to the Super Bowl.

Fox gave an emphatic answer Monday.

''Let me just say that I can't think of another quarterback that I'd rather have than Peyton Manning,'' Fox said. ''We remind everybody that whether it's two weeks, three weeks, at the end of the day we're not done with our body of work yet. We're just trying to win games. We've been blessed to win three in a row.

''We'll lean on whatever we have to lean on. We're just trying to be efficient at both,'' Fox said. ''Unless something else is created, you're either running it or you're throwing it. I think we're going to do what's necessary to win football games. It just so happens over the last few weeks we've leaned a little more on one side. But as long as it's effective, that's what helps you win games.''

So, Fox said, there's nothing wrong with Manning or the passing game - save for the Thomases hobbled by sore ankles.

Julius Thomas has missed almost a month and Demaryius Thomas caught just two passes for 11 yards Sunday, his lowest output since he had 10 yards against Detroit in 2011 when Tim Tebow was his quarterback.

''Our passing game is fine,'' Fox said. ''You never know, we might put our foot on the gas and throw it 50 times. I can't really predict what's going to happen because a lot of it's based on what our opponent does in matchups. There (also) have been injuries that have had something to do with it.''

Those affect the Broncos' blueprints, he said.

''So, there's nothing wrong with our passing game. We've just run it a little bit more over the last few weeks - just like there was nothing wrong with our run game when people were blowing fuses on that,'' Fox said. ''We just happened to be throwing it more. So, our goal is to be efficient at both.''

Manning admitted getting away from the pass-heavy offense has been ''a little bit of an adjustment,'' and it's had a big impact on his production.

Sunday marked just the 10th time in his 276 career starts that Manning threw 20 or fewer passes, and almost all the others were games in which he made only a cameo appearance or gave way to his backup for mop-up duty.

Only one other time has he played the entire game and thrown fewer passes: he had 17 throws, including three touchdowns, in a 35-3 win over Tennessee on Dec. 4, 2005.

Denver's defenders are pleased to see this new no-frills offense because that usually means they're on the field a lot less.

''We like our rest,'' nose tackle Terrance Knighton said. ''I mean, on the sideline I love watching Peyton throw the ball, D.T., Emmanuel Sanders, I love all of them catching touchdowns. But then again, run the ball maybe once or twice more just to give us a break.''

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.