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Gazette Premium Content Broncos' Nate Irving steps in for Miller

The Associated Press Updated: January 4, 2014 at 6:18 pm

ENGLEWOOD — Nate Irving knows he's no Von Miller. Still, he's relishing the chance to serve as his stand-in for the Broncos' playoff run now that Denver's star is awaiting surgery to repair a torn ligament in his right knee.

Make that one of his stand-ins.

Irving was the goat in Denver on Dec. 12, the last time the Broncos played at home. He jumped offside while San Diego's Mike Scifres was punting out of his own end zone, giving the Chargers an unexpected first down and allowing them to eat up seven more minutes before Peyton Manning got the ball back.

The Chargers upset the Broncos 27-20 on that night.

The Broncos (13-3) argued Chargers long snapper Mike Windt should have been flagged instead of Irving on that play because he moved the ball ever so slightly before snapping it.

"That's over with," Irving said Friday. "I don't dwell on it. You go back and watch the film. You can see him move the ball. That's what happened. But I could have been more disciplined in not jumping offside."

Irving tried to forget about the flag, not wanting it to lead to more miscues. But it was hard to let it go.

"I felt like that was the reason we lost," Irving said. "They ran more time off the clock, and if I could have given our offense the ball back, it would have been a different outcome. But that's over with, so I don't think about it anymore."

Irving's chance at atonement came sooner than he thought, and truth be told, not in the way he wanted, either.

In Denver's next game, at Houston, Miller tore his right ACL in the opening minutes, ending his star-crossed season that had started with a six-game drug suspension but had begun rounding into shape with the playoffs looming.

As defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio acknowledged, Miller is irreplaceable. Nobody can do everything he does, from setting up anywhere along the line and crashing the pocket to disrupt passers and ball carriers alike, or dropping back at the snap to alter receivers' routes.

Instead, the Broncos all have to pitch in and do their part.

"We lost one of the best pass-rushers in the league, there's no way around that," Irving said. "So, it's up to the coaches to come up with schemes to get a pass rush to get to the quarterbacks, and it's up to the players to execute what they come up with. That's a collective effort."

For Irving, a third-year pro out of North Carolina, that's playing strongside linebacker in the base defense, taking on tight ends and getting his snaps mainly on run downs, then giving way to defensive ends Robert Ayers and Jeremy Mincey on passing downs.

After Miller got hurt, Irving responded with a career-best five tackles, and last week at Oakland he had two tackles for loss and also recorded his first career sack.

"We say it all along, it's 'next man up,'" coach John Fox said. "Any time Von has been out, for those first six games and the last couple, I think he's stepped in and done a really good job. I think he's done it earlier in his career, so he's stepped up every time we've called on him. It's a good thing and it's a tribute to how hard the guy works and prepares."

Irving had a career-best 34 tackles this season, including eight for a loss, and he tied for second on the team with seven special-teams stops.

"Nate is a good player," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We just have so many other linebackers. ... We need him to continue to make some plays and not try to do what Von does but just have some production, and that's what he's doing."

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