Future is uncertain for Nalen


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Jan 22, 2006
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Future is uncertain for Nalen

By Lee Rasizer, Rocky Mountain News
January 23, 2006
As if the disappointment of the loss weren't enough for Broncos center Tom Nalen, his uncertain future popped into his mind Sunday as he trudged off the Invesco Field at Mile High turf.
"It was weird walking off the field thinking it might be my last game in this stadium," the pending free agent said. "But, hopefully, it's not."

Nalen, who was drafted in 1994 and has made five Pro Bowls for the Broncos, will turn 35 in May, and Ben Hamilton waits in the wings as the team's center.

Nalen made it clear retirement is not an option. And he backed off a stance he had taken during the summer about not wanting to play anywhere else, should it come to that. If the Broncos decide they will turn the page,

he'll seek work elsewhere.

"I don't want it to end like this," he said after the Pittsburgh Steelers' convincing 34-17 victory. "(But) I'm old, so I don't know what kind of market's out there for me."

One reason for his change of heart is his health. He noted he has taken care of himself better this season and had a lot more fun, outside of Sunday's result.

"I feel great," he said. "I didn't spend one day in the training room."

Broncos left tackle Matt Lepsis also could go into the free-agent market, though he has a player option to pick up the rest of his deal, which would pay him $10 million in various bonuses during the next two years.

Nalen said money will be part of his decision but not the only one. But it boils down to whether the Broncos want him back as well.

"This is a great team and the offensive line is great to be around," he said. "This whole team is unique. It's a tight team and I'd hate to walk away from this team."

MAIZE AND MOSTLY BLUE: For all the talk of Jerome Bettis' possible happy ending in Super Bowl XL as a Detroit native, the game denied Broncos linebacker Ian Gold a chance to win a ring in his home state of Michigan, too.

"I really wasn't really focused on that," he said. "I was focused on the team and whether we could do something special."

He was more worked up about Bettis' Super Bowl preparations after talking with some Michigan buddies before the game.

"I had people telling me he's got the Fox Theatre and half of Detroit rented out," Gold said. "I relayed that to these guys, so it makes me sick to my stomach to think a guy went in and rented places a week before he even knew they'd be in the Super Bowl. But he backed it up, and I hope he enjoys it."

AND THE WINNER IS: Broncos players said they believe the Steelers will win the Super Bowl even before they knew the Seattle Seahawks would be the opponent Feb. 5.

"I mean, they came in here and beat us like that so, yeah, I think they're going to go all the way, and, honestly, I hope they do," Gold said. "They're representing the AFC. And if it's anybody I'd want to win the Super Bowl, it's a team that did that to us."

NOT VERY SPECIAL: The few glimmers of hope for the Broncos often were immediately tempered by a special-teams mishap.

On the Steelers' first drive of the second half, the Broncos finally ended a stretch of seven third-down conversions by the Steelers and forced a punt. But Pittsburgh's Chris Gardocki perfectly placed his pop-up punt inside the Broncos 10-yard line and the Steelers downed it at the 3. Three plays and minus-2 yards later, the Broncos punted from their end zone.

Midway through the fourth quarter, after the Broncos cut the deficit to 27-17 on Mike Anderson's short touchdown run, Todd Sauerbrun's kickoff went out of bounds, giving the Steelers possession at their 40.

Though the Broncos forced a three-and- out, the Steelers were able to maintain the field-position edge for the remainder of the game.

"All year long we had been putting teams in a position where they had the ball in bad field position," Broncos safety Nick Ferguson said.

The role was reversed after the Broncos came up with their most notable special-teams play of the game.

Trailing 27-10, Charlie Adams returned a kickoff 47 yards to the Steelers 43. Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was intercepted by Larry Foote on the next play.

"There are a lot of things that could have happened to change the outcome of the game," Adams said. "There were a lot of

'woulda, coulda, shouldas.' Now you just have to swallow it and look at what you did wrong."

BLITZBURGH: It was billed as the battle of the blitzes, and Pittsburgh's pass rush clearly won. The Steelers sacked Jake Plummer three times after sacking the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning five times last week.

Before the game, Plummer's mobility was believed to be a factor that would diminish the Steelers' rush, but he threw two interceptions and constantly was under pressure when he dropped back to throw.

"Our guys just made the plays," Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. "They didn't block our guys the way they've been blocking people. They had a harder time. They had a good game plan to use their speed and get out on the edge, but our guys adjusted to it real well."

LeBeau, architect of the Steelers' creative blitz packages, said they respected Plummer's big-play potential when he rolled out of the pocket.

"We just had to get a hold of him and make sure he didn't make too many plays," he said.

SCENIC ROUTE: The Steelers became the first No. 6 seed to reach the Super Bowl and only the second team to win three consecutive road playoff games, matching the New England Patriots in the 1985 season.

"It hasn't sunk in yet, but we are going to the dance," said Joey Porter, a former Colorado State linebacker who forced a first-quarter fumble by Plummer. "Everyone said we couldn't do it being the sixth seed. We just took the scenic route."

SUPERMAN: The Broncos should have prepared some Kryptonite for Troy Polamalu. The way the Steelers safety has been playing, it might be the only way to stop him.

Although he totaled only five tackles and one assist, he was all over the field.

One play was especially impressive. Facing third-and-10, Plummer threw a screen pass to running back Tatum Bell. Bell had an open field in front of him, but Polamalu came from the other side of the field, powering through a block by Broncos lineman Cooper Carlisle, and made a diving tackle to stop Bell short of the first down.

"Our defense just persevered, and that's what great teams do," Polamalu said.

ETC.: The Broncos loss means their coaching staff will travel to Honolulu to oversee the AFC team in the Pro Bowl on Feb. 12 . . . The Broncos are 6-2 in AFC Championship Games and lost one for the first time at home in five tries . . . Pittsburgh took the lead with 4 minutes, 11 seconds to play in the first quarter and led for 49:11 overall. The Broncos had trailed for only 47:49 in nine previous games at home this season and for only 14:22 in the past eight games. The San Diego Chargers led for 33:27 on Sept. 18 . . . The Broncos had an 11-game home winning streak snapped.

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