Knighton takes on bigger role in Denver this season

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Terrance Knighton has experienced quite a growth spurt in Denver this season. Granted, that sounds outlandish for a 331-pound guy known as ''Pot Roast.''

However, he's a huge reason the Broncos (11-3) are more than just the Peyton Manning Show. He's the fulcrum of Denver's fourth-rated defense that's second in the league against the run.

''He's got a big presence,'' said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. ''He's really matured as a football player. I had him when he was a youngster in Jacksonville and he's grown up a lot. He's a dominant presence for us in the middle of our defense. And he does take on that role of leadership and take it seriously.''

The team's outspoken defensive captain recently proclaimed the Broncos will once again beat the Patriots in the playoffs even if it's in Foxborough, where Denver hasn't won since 2006.

After coach John Fox admonished him afterward, Knighton didn't back down from the promise he made in the jubilation of Denver's fourth straight divisional title last weekend.

''I feel like our defense right now is playing the best of any defense in the NFL, and we want to carry this team to a Super Bowl victory,'' Knighton said. ''I stand by what I said - I don't care who we play, where we play. Put the ball down and we're going to come out with a victory.''

After coming up big for the Broncos in their Super Bowl run last season, the loquacious Knighton said he wanted a bigger leadership role this year and his teammates elected him a captain.

So, it was no surprise when he pulled a Joe Namath.

''Yeah, he guaranteed it. And they won it. I mean, he's a little more in control of the game than I am,'' Knighton said. ''But I believe that when players make guarantees, you have to be at a certain level to say that. And when you have a top-5 offense and a top-5 defense, and me being one of the main reasons why we have a top defense, shoot, I felt like I had the floor and I could say it.''

His Super Bowl pledge quickly crawled across TV screens everywhere and created a stir on Twitter. ''Yeah, all Patriots fans, about 500 to 600 comments from Patriots fans,'' he said.

''I'm pretty sure there are guys on this team who agree with me that won't say anything and probably don't want to get involved in being a headline or getting caught up in that,'' Knighton said. ''Peyton's not that type of guy; he just goes out and plays. But I'm a vocal guy. I speak my mind.

''Obviously, that's why you guys talk to me, but coach Del Rio always told me, since my rookie year, `You're a grown man. If you want to say something, put your name by it.' And I put my name by it.''

It's that accountability and accessibility that earned Knighton the Darrent Williams Good Guy Award, presented annually by the Denver chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America.

''Obviously, there's been a lot of talk about me talking about winning other things but this just means a lot,'' Knighton said. ''A lot of my characteristics, my character, I get it from my mom, Rochelle Knighton. I've got to say that. She always teaches me to be respectful and give more respect to the people that respect you.''

She also taught him never to back down from anyone he faces or anything he says.

''It's an overall consensus in the locker room. Guys might not say it but we all feel the same way, Super Bowl or bust, really,'' Knighton said. ''Mr. (John) Elway put together a team that he feels should win the Super Bowl. We don't want to let him down, and we don't want to let ourselves down.

''We don't want to come up short like we did last year and we want to improve and the only way to improve from last year is actually winning the title.''

Notes: WR Emmanuel Sanders was sent home during practice Saturday with flu-like symptoms. He's listed as questionable for Monday night's game at Cincinnati. So is Manning, but both are expected to play. Aside from the season he missed because of spinal fusion surgery, Manning has never missed a start in his 17-year career. ... Manning is 13-4 on Monday nights and 10-2 on Thursday nights.

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

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