The Denver Broncos had a pretty good bye week.
After getting several players healthy and managing to gain some ground in the AFC West standings without playing, the first-place Broncos look to avoid a third straight loss when they host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Denver (4-3) returns to the field for the first time since being routed 41-7 by the New England Patriots on Oct. 20. After starting the season 3-0 while averaging 38.0 points, the Broncos have dropped three of their last four, scoring 14.8 points during that stretch.
Despite their recent poor play, the Broncos are still in first place in the West after the three other teams in the division all lost last weekend.
Denver comes out of the bye optimistic about the potential of the offense now that wide receiver Brandon Stokley (concussion), running back Selvin Young (groin) and tight end Tony Scheffler (groin) all could rejoin the team this week.
“Everybody’s upbeat and looking forward to finishing this season off the right way,” said Stokley, who has 24 catches for 262 yards and two touchdowns. “We have to go out there and play good football. That’s the bottom line for us.”
Rookie Ryan Torain may also make his NFL debut after an elbow injury sidelined him for the first eight weeks. He could give Michael Pittman some rest as the running back continues to be bothered by a rib injury. Torain, a fifth-round draft pick out of Arizona State, had been heralded by coach Mike Shanahan during training camp.
Denver hopes getting those players back can help boost an offense that amassed a season-low 275 yards against the Patriots. Jay Cutler was 17-of-26 for 168 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the loss. He also smacked his finger on a helmet, but X-rays after the game were negative.
“I got lucky,” said Cutler, who added it’s not affecting how he throws.
The Broncos need Cutler at his best given the struggles of the defense. They’ve allowed more than 400 yards of offense in the last two games, including 257 rushing against the Patriots. Denver is giving up 408.9 yards per game - third-most in the NFL.
“We’ve got to play better and be consistent - do our job,” said defensive end Elvis Dumervil, who had five tackles and two sacks against the Patriots in one of his best games of the season. “No more excuses, just get the job done.”
Although the Dolphins (3-4) are in last place in the AFC East, Dumervil and the Broncos should know better than to overlook them after Miami surprised the division-leading Buffalo Bills 25-16 last Sunday.
The Dolphins overcame a nine-point third-quarter deficit behind a breakout game from Ted Ginn Jr., who had seven catches for 175 yards.
“He just keeps getting better and better,” said Chad Pennington, who went 22-of-30 for 314 yards and one touchdown. “You can just tell in his eyes when we’re talking about routes that he’s just very hungry. He wants to be the guy.”
Ginn was the ninth overall pick in the 2007 draft, but was a disappointment last season with 34 catches for 420 yards and two touchdowns. Last Sunday was the first 100-yard receiving game of his career.
Ginn provides Pennington with yet another target to work with. Pennington has passed for 1,710 yards - ninth-most in the NFL - and his 69.3 completion percentage is second-best in the league.
Facing the NFL’s 30th-ranked rush defense, the Dolphins will also try to get Ronnie Brown going. Brown hasn’t run for more than 50 yards in the last three games and has only one of his seven rushing touchdowns during that stretch.
The Dolphins have failed to break 100 yards rushing the last three games and five times this season.
“We’re not where we want to be in that phase of the game,” coach Tony Sparano said. “We’ll clean it up.”
Miami’s other two wins came against the Patriots - who are tied with the Bills atop the East - and the Chargers. The Dolphins rushed for 216 and 167 yards, respectively, in those victories.
The Dolphins have won four of the last five meetings between these teams, and including playoffs, are 10-4-1 all-time against Denver. They won 24-10 in Miami in the last matchup in 2005.