In his first start in 56 weeks, Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno kept the pile moving forward, didnt fumble and didnt get hurt. It was, in his coachs eyes, such a solid performance that Moreno will start again next week, too.
Playing his first game since Sept. 17, and making his first start since Oct. 30, 2011, Moreno rushed for 85 yards on 20 carries in a steady return for the Broncos.
He ran for 30 of those yards while the Broncos were draining all but 14 seconds of the final 6:24 off the clock in their 17-9 win over Kansas City. In other words, Moreno did precisely what the Denver running game is designed to do in 2012 complement Peyton Manning and help the Broncos salt away games.
I thought he had a very good performance, coach John Fox said. Its the way hes going about his business up to this point. Everybody had great confidence in him, and he came through for us. Weve pretty much had running back by committee as it is, and hell start out there as the starter.
But up to now, the Broncos, now 8-3 and one win away from clinching the AFC West, have used one back as the featured runner in that committee while everyone else has played supporting roles. Before getting injured in the second quarter last Sunday, Willis McGahee had 173 of the running backs 257 carries (67 percent), with the rest divided between Ronnie Hillman, Lance Ball and Moreno.
Moreno had only eight of those carries. Since he lost a fumble in Week 2 against the Falcons, he hasnt been seen in a uniform on a game day. In fact, the bulk of his time on the practice field has been spent working with the scout team hardly the role the 12th pick in the 2009 draft expected to play this far into his career.
I never felt discouraged, Moreno said. I knew what my abilities were. At the same time, I was just waiting for my opportunities to come, and thats what I think I did.
Fox said the running backs extended period on the scout team wasnt so much caused by the fumble as the torn ACL he suffered last November in a game in Kansas City.
It does take time until youre 100 percent, Fox said. Youre cleared to play, but youre not exact as you probably think you should be. He needed some time. But he had a great attitude, a great mindset through that period of time. And just by the nature of this league, injuries are part of the game, we knew wed need him, and he went about it right, and thats why he looked so good.
Moreno downplayed the knee as a factor in his long-term benching.
Never a problem, he said. Its part of the business. It happens. You just go with the punches, wait for your chance to come, and thats what I did.
Of the backs left on the roster after McGahee, Moreno largely was considered the one with the biggest upside. He was, after all, a first-round draft pick, with speed, size (5-11, 200) and, now, the experience to handle the all-important blocking assignments that take some running backs a long time to master.
Yet because he hadnt played for two months, there was speculation that Hillman, the rookie, or Ball, the dependable backup, might get the bulk of the carries against the Chiefs.
Turns out, the call went to Moreno, who proved more than ready.
Next, the team finds out how he recovers.
The 20 carries and four receptions marked the most times hes touched the ball since December 2010.
The morning after, Moreno woke up with some aches and pains.
Im sore, he said. But its a good kind of sore.