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John Fox returns as Denver Broncos make push to playoffs

12:49 PM, Dec 8, 2013   |    comments
Nov 24, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) points to the bench in the first quarter against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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KUSA - After having a good week of practice in the cold, Denver Broncos head coach John Fox is ready to get back on the sidelines at the stadium.

Just five weeks after having open-heart surgery, the 58-year-old Fox plans to brave another cold Colorado day Sunday and coach from the field instead of the warmth of the coaches' box when the Broncos play the Tennessee Titans.

Forecast for the 2:05 p.m. kickoff is 13 degrees with flurries, but Fox bundled up and made it through outdoor practices this week as the arctic blast blew through Denver. Those sessions weren't just to prep for the Titans but a test for the coach and his ability to fend off the cold with his new aortic valve.

His doctors are confident the cold weather hasn't affected his recovery, so Fox will be down with his players.

"Upstairs you get a better view of the game, [but] you don't have quite the emotion involved," Fox said Friday. "On the field you have a little bit better feel for the players. You look right into their eyes. Communication-wise it's direct, and you're not going through somebody. There are probably cons for both, but I'm looking forward to getting back on the field with the team."

As for the game between the lines, the Broncos (10-2) control the AFC top seed for the postseason and remain a game ahead of New England, which beat Denver two weeks ago. The Patriots (9-3) play Sunday against Cleveland.

With another cold game on tap, the Broncos again will need to rely on the running game, which has exploded the past three weeks to balance Peyton Manning's passing game. After averaging 28 carries in the first nine games, the Broncos have averaged 38 runs in the past three games.

Denver's offense continues to be the best in the NFL. Manning, who is 13-5 against the Titans including a five-game winning streak, needs nine touchdown passes in the final four games to tie the single-season record (50 by Tom Brady in 2007).

Manning has 10 300-yard passing games this season (including three 400-yard games) and is just 575 yards shy of his career-best 4,700 yards in 2010.

"You think you pick up something on him, and he figures that out and adjusts in the second quarter. It's going to be a great challenge for our defense," Titans coach Mike Munchak said of Manning, who was considering Tennessee when he was a free agent in 2012. "Our defense is having a good year also in a lot of areas, and this will be a challenge to see how we match up against a very, very good offense. And a great quarterback."

Despite a 5-7 record, Tennessee has a top-10 defense, giving up 326.6 yards per game. They have allowed just eight touchdown passes (best in the NFL) and have 10 interceptions.

Tennessee has kept opponents to an average of 22.2 points per game (11th in the league), but hasn't faced a machine like the Manning Express, which leads the NFL with 6.3 yards per play as well as 38.7 points and 458.5 total yards per game.

Titans safety Bernard Pollard said the way to stopping Manning is to "plant a virus" in his hard drive.

"He's a walking computer," said Pollard, who has three interceptions this season. "He's always processing something."

And Manning's presence is not just a concern for opposing defenses. Tennessee quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has played across from Manning and knows it can be a distraction even for the offenses, which feel the pressure to score to keep up with their counterparts.

"It's hard not to get caught up in who the quarterback is on the other side of the ball," Fitzpatrick said, "but it's something you can't do because that just takes away from your effectiveness as a player."

The Titans are in the bottom third of the league averaging just 22 points per game. The 31-year-old Fitzpatrick is 1-3 in the past four weeks since taking over for Jake Locker (who sustained a season-ending foot injury early in Week 10 against Jacksonville). This season, Tennessee has lost four games by a touchdown or less.

"I think we've played well in spurts," said Jack Del Rio, who goes back to full-time defensive coordinator after a 3-1 record as interim head coach. "I do feel confident that we can play our best football as we go down this stretch here and into the playoffs and that's really what's most important."

It will be a short week for the Broncos. Denver plays Thursday in the home finale against San Diego before ending the season at Houston (Dec. 22) then at Oakland (Dec. 29). If they finish in the top two spots in the AFC, Denver would have a bye week and would start the playoffs either Jan. 11 or 12 at home.

"(Coach Fox) talks about trying to get into some kind of flow and rhythm and maybe get some momentum here in December," Manning said. "You can't do that if you can't get off to a good start. We're playing a good team. A team that's still right in the middle of it. Every game that they've played they've been in - tipped ball here or there. They had a dropped interception last week that probably could have made the game go another way."

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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