ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Until last weekend, Derek Wolfe felt like he was missing out on all the fun.
He missed the first four games of the season while serving a suspension under the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. Watching Denver's defense steamroll opponents without him was hard enough but upon his return he realized he wasn't privy to all the inside jokes in the locker room and felt like an outsider.
He collected a smattering of tackles in his first couple of games back, but his biggest impact was an unfortunate one. It was his block of an opponent into Shane Ray's legs that sent the Broncos' first-round draft pick to the sideline with a sprained right MCL in Cleveland on Oct. 18.
Then, when the Broncos (7-0) shredded Aaron Rodgers and the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers last week, it was Wolfe who led the way with a game-high seven tackles. That earned him a game ball from coach Gary Kubiak and AFC defensive player of the week honors.
''I'll tell you, if you turn the film on, he played super,'' Kubiak said. ''Obviously, we played really good defensively, but he was special. It was his best game of the year. When you get an honor like that, everybody else is watching that film, too, so it tells you how well he played.
''I'm proud of Derek. I think that the best thing that I can say about Derek is when you miss a month, as a coach, you're scared to death of how a guy is going to come back. Derek took care of his business and when he came back, he was ready to play.''
Safety T.J. Ward went down that same path, missing the opener while serving a suspension and then winning AFC defensive player of the week honors in Week 4.
He said Wolfe came back hungry just like he did.
''That's what happens when you sit out for any period of time. You should come back hungry,'' Ward said. ''Wolfe played a hell of a game.''
With edge rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware hemming in Rodgers and the secondary led by Aqib Talib, Chris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby stifling the receivers, the Packers' last hope was their ground game, and Wolfe shut that down, too. Eddie Lacy managed 38 yards on 11 carries.
Wolfe said he usually doesn't consider it a good game if he doesn't get a sack but those are hard to come by with so many premier pass rushers in Denver.
So, ''I thank the Green Bay Packers for trying to run the ball at me,'' he said.
Wolfe did put one of four hits on Rodgers on the Packers' opening drive that set the tone for the worst game of Rodgers' career.
''I put a good hit on him. After watching the TV copy, he got up a little bit slow,'' Wolfe said. ''I think that had a big impact. DeMarcus hit him a few times. We were all over him the whole game.''
Andrew Luck is up next for the Broncos, and the Colts quarterback sure took notice of Denver's dismantling of Rodgers.
''It's not just what they've done this past weekend, it's what they've done the whole season,'' Luck said. ''It's a heck of a defense with really good players. They're playing really well, probably as good as anybody in the league right now. Honestly, there's two premier edge rushers, three, four or five really good corners, tough safeties, inside linebackers, the guys on the interior of the D-line are all good.
''It's a well-rounded defense and you have to really fight for every yard.''
The Colts (3-5) are tied with Houston atop their division but are 0-5 outside the awful AFC South.
To Wolfe, they're not a struggling team with an ailing QB who leads the league with a dozen interceptions despite playing in just six games, or one that just switched offensive coordinators, but the team that beat them in the playoffs 10 months ago.
''Yeah, that's my motivation,'' Wolfe said. ''I mentioned that to the defensive line earlier today. I said, `Don't forget. These guys knocked us out of the playoffs last year, so don't sleep on them.'''
Notes: OLB Shaq Barrett (toe) returned to practice Thursday. WR Jordan Norwood (hamstring) missed practice again. ... RB Ronnie Hillman was limited with a bruised thigh but Kubiak said he expected him to get his full workload in at Friday's practice.
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