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Extra Points: 'Welker watch' is on in Denver
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - The Denver Broncos may want to consider putting together a public service announcement for their fans.
If you're scared, buy a dog.
Despite watching one of the greatest offenses in the history of football over the past 15 weeks, plenty of Broncos fans are sweating it out as the 2013 NFL season makes the turn toward the home stretch.
If it's not Peyton Manning's 9-11 postseason record giving them nightmares, his "ineffectiveness" in the cold weather sends them scrambling for the Xanax.
The lucid of course are comforted by the fact that one of the two or three greatest signal callers to ever play the game is having his best statistical season, and piloting a group which has already scored 535 points, 54 shy of the all-time record with two games to go and 129 more than second-best team in football this season (Chicago, 406).
The Broncos average of 38.2 points per game is the second-highest of any team in history behind the 1950 Los Angeles Rams (38.8), and they are already the first club to have four different players score 10-or-more touchdowns (Knowshon Moreno 12, Demaryius Thomas 11, Julius Thomas 11 and Wes Welker 10) with Eric Decker, who has eight (nine if you count Mrs. Decker, Jessie James), threatening to make it five.
Manning himself has already passed for 4,811 yards, the most ever through the first 14 games of a season, and his 47 TD passes are quickly closing in on Tom Brady's league record of 50 set in 2007.
A week 15 loss to ex-offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and his San Diego Chargers, however, set off more than a few alarms.
The Chargers snapped Denver's 10-game AFC West winning steak and proved you could beat the Broncos in the Rockies by holding the ball for nearly 39 minutes and converting 6-of-12 third downs.
San Diego's much-maligned defense also came up big, holding the NFL's most powerful offense to season lows in points (20), rushing yards (a dismal 18) and passing yards (295). The Broncos tallied 127 yards on their but totaled just 168 yards the rest of the way.
"The longer you keep the ball and the less he (Manning) has it, the better off you're going to be," McCoy said while mapping out the blueprint to beating the Broncos.
What wasn't mentioned, though, was the absence of Welker, who missed the game after suffering his second concussion in 21 days the week prior against Tennessee.
The slot star is the lynchpin to the Denver offense and why the Broncos came in against the Chargers as the best third-down team in football. Welker is Manning's security blanket and the guy who moves the chains on football's most important down.
And if you think a player like that isn't important, look to Baltimore and what happened to Joe Flacco and that offense early this season after the Ravens traded away Anquan Boldin and then lost Dennis Pitta to a dislocated hip.
While Demaryius Thomas and Decker are wreaking havoc outside the numbers for Denver and Julius Thomas is exploiting linebackers down the seam, Welker is the one on the inside, doing the dirty work. His absence was glaring against the Chargers, who were able to force numerous three-and-outs, situations usually foreign to the Broncos.
Denver made a calculated gamble by shutting down Welker for the rest of the regular season this week with an eye of getting him as clear-headed as possible for a run toward Super Bowl XLVIII.
It's a risk because the hiccup the Broncos suffered against San Diego put Kansas City back in play for home-field advantage throughout the AFC bracket if the Chiefs are able to win out and Denver falters one more time in two road games. That scenario would send the Broncos tumbling all the way to the fifth- seed in the conference.
Here's the thing, though. Denver finishes its schedule with trips to Houston, which has dropped a franchise-worst 12 in a row, and Oakland, which is enduring its 11th straight season of playing .500 football or worse.
Manning should be able to make due against those teams with Andre Caldwell in the slot or Ricky Nattiel, Mark Jackson or Vance Johnson for that matter.
If you want to remain scared, though, make it for the right reasons and keep an eye on Welker, a receiver who now has 841 career catches and has taken nearly as many big hits over the years.
Concussion symptoms can linger for months and many believe Welker has played through more than a few undiagnosed ones before head injuries became a hot- button issue.
In Minnesota this week, tight end John Carlson is trying to recover from his third documented NFL concussion, and, according to multiple reports, two additional ones during his college career at Notre Dame.
"I didn't really feel abnormal, but it's a serious thing," Carlson told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "If you have any symptoms, it's not something you want to rush back from."
Welker won't rush but the Broncos certainly need him back.
The NFL's MVP-in-waiting and its best offense looked awfully pedestrian without him last week and the same could hold true if he's absent in January.
12/20 14:34:24 ET