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Lynch ready to stop the unstoppable

By JOANNE KORTH, Times Staff Writer
Published January 8, 2005

John Lynch has heard it before.

In the 1999 season, when he was a member of the Bucs, the experts gave Tampa Bay little hope of defeating St. Louis in the NFC Championship Game. The high-powered Rams offense, everyone said, was unstoppable, the "Greatest Show on Turf."

Well, the Bucs did lose.

But the score was 11-6.

This week, as a member of the Broncos, Lynch is assuring a new set of teammates that a great defense can stop a great offense. That is precisely the task Denver faces in its AFC wild-card game Sunday at Indianapolis, home of the league's latest offensive juggernaut.

"Everyone loves to see points scored and people running fast all over the field. I think there's a tendency to think that No. 1 offenses can't be stopped," Lynch said during a news conference Wednesday in Denver. "I think if you play great defense, it's a tremendous equalizer.

"It's a tremendous challenge. You have to be on top of your game and all play together. You can't make mistakes because guys like Peyton Manning are too good, they'll find you if you do. You've got to play with great passion and exactness."

Lynch, who went to five Pro Bowls in 11 seasons with the Bucs, was in the news this week for receiving a $75,000 fine for what the league ruled an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit against Colts tight end Dallas Clark. Lynch, who is appealing the fine, said after Sunday's 33-14 victory that such hits send a message. He stopped short, however, of saying the Colts receiving corps could be intimidated.

"They get hit a lot and they continually get up," Lynch said. "I've got a lot of respect for their receivers. They're a tough group of guys. Dallas Clark, he laid down for a second and got up. That's what makes them good; they're tough. But you do your job and you try to make plays on the ball and if someone comes into your zone, you try to hit them."

Last season, the Broncos were embarrassed by the Colts during a 41-10 wild-card loss at Indianapolis. Lynch and Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey were acquired and rookie linebacker D.J. Williams drafted in the first round to upgrade an inconsistent defense.

The Broncos, which earned the final AFC playoff berth with victories against the Titans and watered-down Colts in the final two weeks of the season, were improved. They ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense at 278.7 yards per game.

"We get pressure on the quarterback, we stop the run, and when we do that we're a pretty darn good defense," Lynch said. "Mental mistakes are what's hurt us."

Lynch was plagued in 2003 by shoulder stingers that led Tampa Bay officials to question his long-term health. But the hard-hitting safety, among the most popular players in Bucs history, has put together a highlight reel of big hits for the Broncos.

Lynch fractured his left thumb on the first play of Sunday's victory, but the injury did not keep him out of the game. Nor will it keep him out of the wild-card game. This is why he and Bailey, both of whom were named to the Pro Bowl, were brought to Denver.

The stakes are high.

"If you want to be a big-time player, play big in big games," said Lynch, who will play with his thumb immobilized but will have the use of his fingers. "This is a big game. Champ's a big-time player and I'd like to consider myself that. And I think that's the great thing about this league: You've got to continually prove it.

"It doesn't matter what's happened prior in this season. It's about these big games. When you're brought in here and you know that's in the back of their minds for why they brought you in here, sure, that plays into it, and you want to help this team be successful."

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