The Denver Broncos are still on track for the AFC’s top playoff seed; still on track to represent the conference in the Super Bowl — but over the last few weeks, it’s been fair to wonder how many of them will still be on the field? After a season filled with one devastating injury after another, the Broncos’ health situation might finally be improving, and not a moment too soon. With the season’s most important game to date set for Sunday in Kansas City, the Broncos will — hopefully — welcome all these comrades back with open arms:
- Safety Omar Bolden: A valuable special-teamer and versatile backup defensive back, Bolden returned to practice this week after dealing with a concussion, and may be active against the Chiefs.
- Cornerback Kayvon Webster: The rookie out of South Florida has seen his role expand of late, and after practicing this week on a limited basis, the Broncos expect to see him on the field in Kansas City.
- Tight end Julius Thomas: The Broncos’ breakout star is expected to play Sunday after missing the Patriots game with a knee injury suffered against the Chiefs to games ago. He may not be at full speed yet, but with Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen backing him up, the Broncos don’t need him to be.
- Running back Knowshon Moreno: By far, the Broncos’ best player against the Patriots last week, Moreno left Gillette Field in a walking boot and on crutches after his ankle became stiff and painful following his 38-touch, 230-yard performance. He practiced on a limited basis Thursday, after which interim head coach Jack Del Rio joked that Moreno “was working on some sympathy with the girls.” A jest, of course, but the joke will be on the Broncos if the now-irreplaceable Moreno can’t suit up on Sunday as expected.
- Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: After suffering a shoulder injury on the last play of the first half against the Patriots, the man they call “DRC” left the game and didn’t return; which helped to enable Tom Brady’s shocking comeback. Fortunately, the injury wasn’t as serious as it appeared, and the Broncos expect to have him on the field, playing opposite a Broncos all-time great…
- Cornerback Champ Bailey: After missing all but a few quarters of the season with a sever foot injury, Bailey’s expected to play on Sunday. “The foot is feeling a lot better. I’m going to keep progressing through the week to make sure that I’m ready for Sunday,” Bailey said after Wednesday’s practice. “I feel like barring any setbacks, I’ll be out there. That’s the way I’m preparing myself this week: to play. And if nothing goes wrong, I’ll be there. “
The Broncos have still lost three starters for the season: left tackle Ryan Clady, center Dan Koppen and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson ; enormous blows to the team that can’t be overcome. All the Broncos can do is deal with those injuries, and that of starting safety Rahim Moore, who is on the injured list with compartment syndrome in his leg and may not return until the postseason, if at all.
Head coach John Fox’s return to health — it was announced that he’ll take over the team once more on Monday — looms large, as well. “We’ve all missed him,” wide receiver Eric Decker said on Thursday. “Just his energy and his enthusiasm, it’s good to see him in good health, to finally be in town and celebrate Thanksgiving with his family — to know that he’s coming back [on] Monday, it was just kind of a rally point for us.”
After the heartbreaking, frustrating loss to the Patriots last week, the Broncos can turn it into a distant memory with a win over the Kansas City Chiefs in a charged-up Arrowhead Stadium. A win would give them total control — not only over the AFC West division, but the entire conference — as they get their head coach back one day later and plan their finishing kick.
Raising a glass this weekend and toasting the Broncos’ newfound health wouldn’t hurt, either.
Shawn Drotar is in his 20th year as a national sportswriter and editor, and his work has appeared on ESPN, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, Yahoo! Sports and in the USA Today, among others. He’s appeared on television on ESPNEWS and the Altitude Sports Network, and can currently be heard on Denver’s KKFN-FM/104.3 The Fan as a sports-talk radio host.
Follow Shawn on Twitter: @sdrotar