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Broncos hoping week off doesn't stop momentum

Broncos hoping week off doesn't stop momentum

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) More than 15 years later, the words ``Jacksonville Jaguars'' still hit like a cold splash of water around Denver, especially during playoff time.

And if you want to bring back bad memories for Peyton Manning or any of his former Colts teammates, ask them about what happened against Pittsburgh in the 2005 playoffs.

In both instances, the Broncos and Manning roared into the AFC playoffs with top seeding, a week of rest after a bye and the so-called honor of being the odds-on favorite to make the Super Bowl.

In both instances, the Broncos and Manning were unceremoniously dumped, at home, by a team that came into the game as a touchdown-plus underdog.

Which brings up a good question this week in Denver: Does the team that comes into the divisional round fresh off the bye week (See, Denver) have an edge over the team that comes in off the high of a victory the week before (See, Baltimore)?

Dating to Denver's upset loss in the 1996 playoffs, the top-seeded AFC team has made the Super Bowl only six of 16 times.

``If you look back, at least in recent history, sometimes it can be an advantage,'' said Broncos coach John Fox, who lost after a bye week when he was with Carolina in 2008. ``But it comes down to, forget about rest, forget about seeds, forget about who you play, when, where. It's going to be who plays best Saturday afternoon.''

On Saturday, Jan. 4, 1997, the Broncos did not play best.

Led by Mark Brunell, Natrone Means and Jimmy Smith, the Jaguars rolled into the playoffs having won six of seven, then traveled to Buffalo for a confidence-building 30-27 win over the Bills.

Jacksonville's impressive performance barely raised an eyebrow in Denver, where talk of John Elway finally getting his Super Bowl ring was in full force. The biggest news of the week came when Woody Paige, a columnist for the Denver Post, famously called Jacksonville the ``Jagwads'' - a slam that quickly turned into a rallying cry inside the Jaguars locker room.

Every bit as important was the way the two teams were playing coming into that game.

Jacksonville had a high-powered offense that was coming into its own.

Denver had wrapped up the AFC West and top seeding throughout the playoffs on Dec. 1 and spent the last three weeks of the regular season deciding whether to rest the starters, play them or find some workable mix.

In their first meaningful game in a month, the Broncos shot out to a quick 12-0 lead. The rest, as any longtime Denver fan will recall it, was a nightmare. Brunell threw for 245 yards and the Jaguars went up 23-12. Elway tried to engineer another of his trademark comebacks but came up short. Jacksonville won 30-27.

``Everything was just so ideal,'' Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said after the loss. ``And to have it slip away - this sets the organization back four years, at least. It's going to be the year 2000 before we can ever recover from this.''

It didn't take that long for the Broncos to rebound; they won the next two Super Bowls. Manning rebounded from his 2005 playoff loss to win the Super Bowl the next season.

But at the time they happened, both losses were as devastating as they were unexpected.

Going into the game against the Steelers on Jan. 15, 2006, Manning was already brandishing a reputation as one of the greats of the game, albeit with a playoff resume still very much in question. Tom Brady had ousted him twice and he had a 3-5 record in the postseason.

The Colts started that season 13-0 and played the last three weeks under similar circumstances as the `96 Broncos - trying to find the formula that would help them stay sharp while not putting their stars at risk.

Manning played one quarter of the 15th game and one series of the last game, which ended when he was sacked and lost a fumble after being hit by Arizona's Chike Okeafor.

Manning returned two weeks later and got sacked five times in a 21-18 loss to the Steelers. That result left the 2005 Broncos with home-field advantage for the AFC title game - the last time Denver has been that far in the playoffs - but the Steelers beat them, as well.

``That brings back bad memories,'' said Brandon Stokley, the Broncos receiver who played with Manning in Indianapolis in 2005. ``We just didn't play a good game. We had the bye. We kind of shut it down toward the end of the season and came out flat and that's what happens.''

Part by plan and part because they had no other choice, the 2012-13 Broncos have not shut down a thing all season.

Because they were busy holding off Baltimore, leapfrogging New England, then pursuing Houston for the top seed in the AFC, the Broncos had to play all their players through the final game of the year before sealing the top spot.

Once they got it, Fox designed the bye-week schedule to keep his team very much engaged. He called for three practices during the week and a mandatory weightlifting session on Saturday, designed as much for the work in the weight room as for what it prevented - namely, players using their days off to hop a flight to Las Vegas or some other focus-detracting locale.

On Saturday, they find out if it was worth it. The Broncos head into the week as a nine-point favorite.

``I like the way we approached it,'' Stokley said. ``We played every game. We played every play. The bye week, we worked hard. I like this mindset. I feel a lot better about it than I did in Indy.''

Notes: Broncos CB Champ Bailey and OL Ryan Clady were named to the USA Football All-Fundamentals team Monday. ... Denver's only other playoff meeting with the Ravens was a 21-3 loss in Baltimore in the wild-card round. The Ravens won the Super Bowl that year. ... Fox on whether the team had confidence in PR/KR Trindon Holliday, who has been prone to fumbling this season and is recovering from an ankle injury: ``He's on our 53-man roster and he's been our starting punt returner and kick returner for some time. So I guess the answer to that would be yes.''


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Ravens sign Crabtree to three-year deal

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Ravens sign Crabtree to three-year deal

The Baltimore Ravens have signed WR Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal on Friday according to general manager and executive vice president Ozzie Newsome.

The deal is apparently worth $21 million, according to Adam Shefter.

After being released by the Raiders Thursday following the signing of Jordy Nelson, Crabtree heads to the Ravens less than 24 hours later.


The 31-year-old is coming off a 2017 season when he recorded 58 receptions for 618 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2016 he posted 89 receptions for 1,003 yards and eight touchdowns.

Since 2015, the Texas Tech product has scored 25 receiving touchdowns, the fifth-most in the NFL. Crabtree and Steelers WR Antonio Brown are the only NFL players to post at least eight touchdown catches in each of the past three seasons.


In all, Crabtree has played nine NFL seasons – six of them with San Francisco (2009-14) and three with Oakland (2015-17). The former first-round draft pick (10th overall, Texas Tech) has registered 579 receptions for 6,870 yards (11.9 avg.) and 51 touchdowns in 125 career games (122 starts).

“Michael has played very well against the Ravens, so we know firsthand the attributes he brings to the game,” Newsome said in a team statement. “He is a smart, tough, physical receiver who battles for the ball. We like his temperament and believe he is a good fit for our football team, on and off the field.”

Since he entered the NFL in 2009, Crabtree’s 51 receiving scores rank 10th among active wide receivers, while his receptions (579) are seventh, and his receiving yards (6,870) are 12th.

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Ryan Grant's health issue and why the Ravens couldn't control voiding his contract

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Ryan Grant's health issue and why the Ravens couldn't control voiding his contract

The most obvious move in the NFL this offseason was the Ravens signing a new wide receiver (or three). It was less obvious why the team decided to commit so much money to former Redskins receiver Ryan Grant.

Grant has long been beloved by his coaches and teammates, but the results have never been there on game day. He has some potential to improve if given a larger role in a team's offense, which he likely would have had in Baltimore, but it never made much sense to offer him a 4-year contract worth nearly 30 million, with $14.5 million guaranteed.

Thankfully for fans who were uninspired by the reported agreement, Grant was unable to pass his physical and will not be joining the team.


At a press conference Friday morning, GM Ozzie Newsome called the void a "medical decision" that Newsome had no control over. 

NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported that Grant is recovering from a Grade 2 sprained ankle that would need two months rest.

You have to feel for Grant, who by all accounts has worked his tail off for many years just waiting for his chance. It's never easy missing out on nearly $15 million dollars guaranteed, but Grant should be able to find work with another team.

The timing of this news, coming so soon after former Raider Michael Crabtree became available, seemed fishy to some.

At Friday's press conference, Newsome also said the team would have still pursued Crabtree if they signed Grant. 

It's probably not fair to suggest that an NFL franchise would actually so publicly back out of a deal just because another option came along, as any team with that reputation would struggle to attract future free agents. That said, it could end up working out splendidly for the team.

Besides, if all else is equal, shouldn't a team located in Baltimore be going after a guy named CRABtree?