ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In his first start in 56 weeks, Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno kept the pile moving forward, didn't fumble and didn't get hurt. It was, in his coach's 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. "It's the way he's going about his business up to this point. Everybody had great confidence in him and he came through for us. We've pretty much had running back by committee as it is, and he'll 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 per cent), 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 hasn't 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 that's what I think I did."
Fox said the running back's extended period on the scout team wasn't 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 you're 100 per cent," Fox said. "You're cleared to play but you're 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 we'd need him and he went about it right and that's why he looked so good."
Moreno downplayed the knee as a factor in his long-term benching.
"Never a problem," he said. "It's part of the business. It happens. You just go with the punches, wait for your chance to come and that's what I did."
Of the backs left on the roster after McGahee, Moreno was largely considered the one with the biggest upside. He was, after all, a first-round draft pick, with speed, size (5-foot-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 hadn't 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 he's touched the ball since December 2010.
The morning after, Moreno woke up with some aches and pains.
"I'm sore," he said. "But it's a good kind of sore."
Notes: Fox didn't list a single injury in his Monday news conference. QB Peyton Manning was checked out after the back of his helmet got slammed to the turf during a tackle by the Chiefs' Tyson Jackson in the second quarter. Fox said Broncos medical staff cleared Manning at halftime to play the third quarter and there was nothing new to report Monday. ... Fox said newly signed RB Jacob Hester gives the Broncos a different "protection-based" dimension to the running back corps. Hester, who played with the division-rival Chargers for his first four years, said that because the Broncos don't use the fullback much, he expects to play special teams and "we'll go from there." ... The last time the Broncos had an 8-3 record after 11 games was 1991, when they won the division and lost the AFC title game to Buffalo.