Broncos Stumble Into Bye Week

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The Denver Broncos defense is in disorder, their high-powered offense in a rut.

They've dropped three of four, lost some big-name players and recently looked abysmal in front of a national audience.

Still, the Broncos (4-3) are in first place in the mediocre AFC West heading into their bye week.

That can't be all bad, can it?

"We know we're a better team," running back Michael Pittman said. "We know we can go out there and do a lot of good things. We've got to go out and do it."

The Patriots walloped Denver 41-7 on Monday night. It's the second straight year the Broncos were blitzed before their bye, losing 41-3 to San Diego last season.

"We really felt like we got embarrassed on national television," Pittman said.

Not only that, the Broncos lost the Bailey brothers - Boss for the season with a left knee injury and Champ for at least a month with a pulled groin.

A defense that ranks near the bottom of the league just lost two crucial components, including an elite cover corner.

"You have ups and downs through the season, and right now, the last couple of games, it hasn't been a good performance by the defense," said Boss Bailey, who will need microfracture surgery on his knee. "You want to be part of the turnaround and trying to get things going back in the right direction. To not be a part of that is a little frustrating."

To not be able to fix the ailing defense is just as vexing.

Try as the Broncos might, nothing seems to work. Not their third defensive coordinator in as many years, not a switch to a 3-4 alignment to take advantage of their deep linebacking corps, not a change at safety.

"We know what we have to do," linebacker Jamie Winborn said. "The tackles being the main thing."

The Patriots torched the Broncos as Matt Cassel threw for three touchdowns and Sammy Morris rushed for a career-best 138 yards, despite missing the second half with a knee injury.

The shoddy performance irked Champ Bailey, who was on the sideline for the second half after pulling up with a groin injury while covering Randy Moss.

"It just stinks how we played," Bailey said.

He wasn't alone in his harsh assessment.

"That's the problem - there's too much pride," defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. "We've got to cut down on pride. Everybody needs to humble themselves. ... We've got the team, the personnel, the coach to do the job."

Yet Denver's disheveled defense is still giving up almost 28 points a game.

That wasn't a predicament when the offense was producing. But the Broncos' offense has turned turnover prone, giving up the ball 12 times in their last four games. They've also gone from averaging 38 points in the first three weeks to failing to score more than 19 in any of their last four contests.

"We've just made too many mistakes," said Brandon Stokley, who sat out the Patriots game with a concussion. "I think people just need to look at themselves, just to see what they can do better."

The bye week couldn't come at a better time for dinged-up Denver. Jay Cutler has a swollen right index finger after smacking his hand on a helmet against New England, while Pittman's ribs are tender and his neck aching.

What's more, backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey was lost for the season with an elbow injury late in the first half, and the Broncos plan to promote Darrell Hackney from the practice squad to take his place.

Denver has also been without Stokley, Selvin Young (groin) and Tony Scheffler (groin), three big components to their offense.

"We have to do what we're supposed to do and execute, and I think our offense will be fine," Stokley said.

After all, Denver boasts the top passing-catching tandem in the league in Brandon Marshall and rookie Eddie Royal, who've caught a combined 88 passes.

Marshall has been magical at times this season, turning in an 18-catch performance against San Diego, the second-most for a game in NFL history.

But he's also been plagued by miscues, putting the ball on the turf in losses to Kansas City and Jacksonville. He even resorted to carrying a football around with him, cradling it close to bond with the ball.

"You get caught up in the moment and the situation of the game and you forget about the most important thing - ball security," Marshall said.

Andre Hall can relate, fumbling both times he carried the ball against New England. With Pittman running well and Young on the mend, Hall might be slipping down the depth chart, especially if rookie Ryan Torain comes back.

Torain, a 225-pound running back from Arizona State, recently returned to practice after breaking a bone in his elbow in August. He was having a sensational camp before the injury, and coach Mike Shanahan even compared him to Terrell Davis when Davis started playing in Denver.

Torain could be just the boost the Broncos need.

"We have to have some positives happen," Pittman said. "(The bye week) came at a perfect time. It's a time for guys to heal up and get their bodies away, get their minds away from football for the moment. When it's time to come back, be prepared and go back to work."