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Broncos on brink of collapse

By Arnie Stapleton
Associated PressENGLEWOOD, Colo. ó A dismal December has the Denver Broncos on the brink of a colossal collapse. Not since division play began in 1967 has a team held a three-game lead with three weeks to go and failed to make the playoffs.
The Broncos (8-7) have led the woeful AFC West for four months, but they will miss the postseason altogether with a loss Sunday night at San Diego, which began the month 4-8.
Now the Broncos are reeling and the Chargers are rolling ó and they’re still a tad ticked off by referee Ed Hochuli’s blown call that negated a fumble and cost them a win in Week 2. A win Sunday ó Hochuli won’t be there ó and the Broncos would become just the fifth team to have sole possession of first place in their division after every game in a season.
The Tennessee Titans also accomplished the feat when they clinched the AFC South three weeks ago, but these bumbling Broncos are nothing like those terrific Titans.
A better bet is Denver will miss the playoffs for a third straight year for the first time since 1982.
Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing for this bruised and battered bunch that saw its sixth and seventh tailbacks placed on injured reserve this week.
The Broncos will head into their most important game in years with a starting running back who has just 163 yards and no touchdowns on 36 carries this season. Tatum Bell was hawking cell phones and wireless plans at a kiosk at the Aurora Mall last month, figuring he’d seen his last days inside an NFL locker room after being caught on security cameras taking his replacement’s bags with him when he was waived by the Detroit Lions.
The Broncos’ broken backfield gave him a second chance and an opportunity to put his 9-to-5 job on hold.
His backups ó or maybe one of them will leapfrog him in keeping with the season-long theme of throwing new faces into the starting lineup ó are Alex Haynes, who was cut by the Broncos last month, and Cory Boyd, cut by Denver last week. Haynes has three career carries, Boyd none.
“America’s Most Dangerous Jobs” has nothing on the Broncos’ backfield, which has lost P.J. Pope (hamstring), Selvin Young (back), Ryan Torain (knee), Michael Pittman (spine), Anthony Alridge (leg), Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and Andre Hall (hand) for the season.

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