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Extra Points: Manning, Broncos equipped to move on minus Fox

By John McMullen, NFL Editor

(SportsNetwork.com) - Just when you start taking sports a little too seriously, real life almost always gets in the way.

On Saturday, Denver Broncos coach John Fox felt dizzy playing golf near his offseason home in Charlotte and was taken to a hospital, where tests revealed a planned aortic valve replacement surgery couldn't wait any longer.

The 58-year-old Fox, who was in town during the Broncos' bye week, will undergo the procedure later this week and his health will remain the primary concern in Denver moving forward.

That said, football marches on and if there is one NFL team equipped to prosper without its mentor, it's probably the Broncos.

So, while it's nice to be needed, the well-liked Fox will have to settle for being missed as he convalesces.

"I sincerely appreciate all of the support from friends, Denver Broncos fans and so many around the league today," Fox said in a statement. "Although I am disappointed I must take some time away from the team to attend to this pre- existing health condition, I understand that it's the right thing to do.

"I have great confidence in our coaches and players, who are fully committed to our goals. I look forward to returning to coaching as soon as possible," Fox continued.

So far the Broncos are only saying Fox is expected to "miss several weeks," but the smart money has him sitting out for two months or so if everything goes to plan.

That would have Fox back on the sidelines for the Broncos' playoff run, something that is and should be talked about like its a fait accompli.

In fact, the postseason isn't even a goal for Denver, so comparing this to Indianapolis making a run at the playoffs last year behind now-Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians while Chuck Pagano fought a successful battle with leukemia is comparing apples to oranges.

It's Super Bowl or bust in the Rockies whether Fox is able to get back on the sidelines this season or not.

There were three legitimate options to be Fox's stand-in: offensive coordinator Adam Gase, defensive chief Jack Del Rio and assistant head coach/running backs coach Eric Studesville.

"We've got a lot of guys who have seen a lot of football in this league," Fox said of his assistants. "It is a great group, and I feel like it gives us an advantage in a lot of ways."

Del Rio was officially elevated to interim head coach/defensive coordinator on Monday.

The historic offensive numbers the Broncos have been putting up may have led you to believe Gase should be the guy. After all, Denver has amassed 343 points at the midway point of its season, an NFL record through eight games and 128 more than the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs, who are currently 1 1/2 games ahead of Denver in the AFC West.

Or perhaps Studesville, who was the team's interim head coach to close out the 2010 season after Josh McDaniels was fired with four games remaining, could have carried some cachet with the players still around from that time.

The easiest answer, however, was Del Rio even though that side of the ball is Denver's shakier unit as evidenced by its 218 points allowed, 107 more than the Chiefs in one less game and 19 more than last-place Oakland, which just gave up 49 points and a perfect 158.3 passer rating to Philadelphia and Nick Foles on Sunday.

Remember, though, Del Rio won 68 games as the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars and made the playoffs on two different occasions. And for all the criticism he got at the end in the Sunshine State, understand the floor has dropped out under the Jags since Del Rio exited in November 2011. The Jaguars are an NFL-worst 4-25 since then.

Gase, who is only 35 and took over for now-San Diego head coach Mike McCoy, is there to do the heavy lifting for Peyton Manning during the week, not making CEO decisions on the sideline on Sundays.

Studesville, meanwhile, ascended to the top spot only because the lightly regarded McDaniels had assembled a staff with few viable options.

Del Rio is the heavyweight in the group and his alma mater -- Southern California -- is reported to be very interested in him taking over the program next year while the Minnesota Vikings, the scene of his greatest professional success, might come knocking after Leslie Frazier's latest debacle ends.

All that said, the decision doesn't really matter.

The Broncos have already survived things that would have crippled the majority of NFL teams -- things like the embarrassing DUI arrests of key personnel executives Tom Heckert and Matt Russell, the Elvis Dumervil fax fiasco, a six- game suspension of their best defensive player, Von Miller, and a season- ending injury to All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady.

Yet, Denver is still considered to be the best team in football by most and few doubt they will survive Fox's absence.

"We all wish (Fox) a speedy recovery, but it's not like you're down there with Sean Payton," former Pittsburgh coach and current CBS analyst Bill Cowher said referring to New Orleans' step back in 2012 when Payton was suspended for the season. "You have a lot of pieces in place right there, right now. (Fox is) not a signal caller. It will have a minimal impact on game day."

Coach on the field is usually an overused term, but Manning is the one player in all of football left to his own devices on a weekly basis, and those devices aren't changing whether Fox, Del Rio or anyone else is watching over him.

Denver football chief John Elway could pick a name out of a hat and still come up smelling like a rose because the real leader of the Broncos is and will remain Manning.

"They're a very good football team," Cowher's colleague, former Bengals quarterback Boomer Esiason, said. "This galvanizes them even more. As they move forward here during the season, they will be playing for their coach. And they can't wait for him to get back."

Hall of Famer Dan Marino then interrupted:

"And they have Peyton Manning."

Enough said.

11/04 10:48:29 ET