ENGLEWOOD, COLO. (AP) - Up next for the Denver Broncos is the one team they've managed to beat in the past two months.
They're not exactly exhaling.
The Broncos (3-8) don't expect their rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) to be anything like it was three weeks ago at Invesco Field, when Denver jumped out to a 35-0 lead and won by three touchdowns.
"An old game, a new month," is how Denver defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson described the rematch.
While the Broncos have been reeling ever since their 49-29 smackdown of KC that culminated in Todd Haley's post-game snub of Josh McDaniels, the Chiefs have been on a roll, scoring 73 points in wins over Arizona and Seattle to maintain their AFC West lead.
Matt Cassel threw a dozen touchdown passes in November and his passer rating was 111.2. Dwayne Bowe has caught 49 passes for 733 yards and 13 TDs in his past seven games.
McDaniels tutored Cassel in New England and even pondered trading for him shortly after his arrival in Denver _ the spark that ignited the Jay Cutler trade for Kyle Orton a couple of months later.
"I think he's having a great season," McDaniels said of his former pupil, noting Cassel's touchdown-to-interception ratio of 22-4.
"To be on pace for an NFL low in turnovers and then still have that type of production in the passing game _ that tells you that you are basically hitting it on the head all the time and Matt is having a season that is very deserving of all the accolades he is receiving," McDaniels said.
Cassel also has a couple of top-notch running backs in Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, who have combined for 1,733 yards and eight TD runs.
Plus, the Chiefs are still smarting from their embarrassing trip to Denver.
"The bottom line is it was one game that we didn't play well," Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "It was probably our worst game of the year. We've definitely moved past that. We know they got the best of us the last time we played. We have to do a lot better job than in the first time. We have to stop the run and make a play. We didn't make any plays."
Sounds a lot like the Broncos of late.
They're 3-8 for the first time in 20 years and their 5-16 slide dating to last season is their worst such stretch in nearly 40 years.
Their tailspin isn't limited to the football field.
There was the Spygate II videotaping violation that cost McDaniels credibility with fans and a $50,000 fine for not reporting it. Linebacker D.J. Williams was stripped of his captaincy for a drunken driving arrest. The sheriff's probe into wide receiver Kenny McKinley's suicide in September found that he had financial and personal problems and a gambling habit that had him $40,000 in debut to Las Vegas casinos.
Orton said the players aren't distracted by all the off-the-field issues facing the team.
"I think everybody understands when you're 3-8, everybody feels the heat _ players, included, and coaches," Orton said. "That's just how it is. You're here to win football games and we haven't done a great job of that."
Perhaps most disconcerting to McDaniels, there are reports of a splintered coaching staff at Dove Valley.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said all the troubles aren't a distraction, though.
"I think this is one of the best coaching staffs I've been on. Josh did a great job when he first got here of putting the staff together. We all work extremely hard together, and we're all in this business together," McCoy said. "We're all one."
Defensive coordinator Don Martindale said his focus in the middle of this storm is on football.
"I've just been worried about the Chiefs," he insisted. "If I think about anything else than the Chiefs, then I'm not doing the players or fans right for Denver. We're just going to go out and try to attack Kansas City and try to stop this offense that's really rolling right now."