Denver Broncos unbeaten but not unblemished
Instead of congratulatory texts on their cellphones after games, they find caustic comments on social media.
Twenty-five drives between offensive touchdowns, in danger of losing all six games in the final minutes, head-scratching penalties.
''It doesn't have to be pretty,'' linebacker Brandon Marshall insists. ''As long as we find a way to win, that's all that matters.''
When style points start to count give him a call, suggested running back C.J. Anderson, noting there are plenty of teams ''running the ball great or catching the ball great'' and trudging off the field in defeat every week.
So, ''I think we're fine,'' he said.
That's the same phrase coach Gary Kubiak used recently when he was asked if the answer to what ails the Broncos might just be the zip, zig and zag that backup QB Brock Osweiler could bring to the field.
''No,'' Kubiak said. ''Peyton's doing just fine.''
Both coach and quarterback insist they'll continue to work hard at making this marriage work, starting with finding ways to reduce the turnovers.
Manning's league-leading 10 interceptions are as many as he had in all of 2013, when he threw seven TD passes in that year's opener alone - the same number he has through six games now.
The Broncos' offense is ranked 29th overall, 31st in third down efficiency and 29th in the red zone.
''We've got as many wins as we can have after six weeks,'' Kubiak said, ''but are we as good as we can be? No. We understand that.''
There's no chest-thumping going on, and that's a good sign to the coaches that the Broncos aren't about to let their undefeated status or even their defiance mask the need to fix things when they get back from their bye and prepare for a visit from the Green Bay Packers, also 6-0.
''Anybody who thinks they have accomplished something through Week 6 is terribly wrong,'' cornerback Aqib Talib said. ''We know we've got a long way to go.''
Denver's No. 1-ranked defense needs to clean up the silly penalties that keep giving opponents extra chances.
Denver's offense is averaging just 1.5 touchdowns a game. That's less than Tim Tebow's scoring-challenged teams, which averaged two TDs per game and were also bailed out by a stout defense and a strong kicker.
The difference was ''Tebowmania'' took the league by storm while Manning's struggles have Broncos fans and fantasy football owners befuddled, wondering if age has caught up to the NFL's 39-year-old icon.
Denver's O-line has been a revolving door with guards Evan Mathis and Louis Vasquez ailing, their tight ends have been non-factors and Anderson, a Pro Bowler a year ago, is averaging just 30 yards a game and has zero touchdowns.
But, oh that defense.
Led by Von Miller with an NFL-best 31 quarterback hurries, the Broncos have collected a league-high 26 sacks by 11 players and have an astounding 18 takeaways.
Brandon McManus has made 16 of 17 field goal tries and all of his PATs.
It seems all anyone wants to harp on, however, is that awful offense.
''That's just the world we live in,'' Miller said. ''If we were scoring 45 points on offense and had the No. 1 defense and B-Mac was missing every field goal, they'd be like, `OK, we got to get the kicker straight or we're not going to win.' It's always going to be something. So, I'm glad it's something and we're 6-0.''
Following Denver's latest escape, a 26-23 overtime win at Cleveland, running back Ronnie Hillman took to Twitter to defend his catawampus quarterback.
''Ya need to get off Peyton that's our QB bottom line .You fake fans don't say anything when he is winning us the game smh,'' Hillman wrote.
Has any 6-0 team ever had this many doubters and detractors?
Maybe the 2009 Broncos, under Josh McDaniels, whose team plummeted to 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
''It's a whole new team, whole new era, from coaches, players, down,'' Bruton said. ''We don't think we're going to fall apart. We have a bunch of hungry guys, guys who want to make plays, guys who want to get better week in and week out. I don't see that happening.''
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham contributed.
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