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Broncos go from joke to contender in 2 years


Broncos go from joke to contender in 2 years

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Two short years ago, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen sent out a letter to season ticket holders. ``You deserve more from this franchise,'' he wrote.

Then, he went out and fixed it - first by hiring John Elway, who remembered how things worked when the Broncos were one of the NFL's premier organizations, then by bringing on John Fox as coach and, eventually, Peyton Manning to play quarterback.

On Monday, the day after the Broncos closed out a 13-3 regular season and wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the team distributed a different kind of memo, a five-page list titled ``Denver Broncos 2012 Regular-Season Superlatives'' - quite a fitting symbol for a franchise that has transformed itself from a punch line with a 4-12 record to a Super Bowl favorite in the span of two years.

How to explain a turnaround that came ahead of schedule?

``You look at Pat Bowlen and his career as owner of the Denver Broncos. He's amassed an unbelievable record. That doesn't just fall out of the sky,'' Fox said of his owner, who has brought two Super Bowl and 10 division titles to Denver since he became owner in 1984. ``John coming back to the organization, his background. Just his commitment to being successful, doesn't matter what that was, whether it was football or business. I knew what kind of competitor he was.

``And I've done it before. In Carolina. It was just a good fit and I'm happy it worked out.''

Back with the Broncos and running their front office, Elway signed Fox, citing his positive attitude and the quick-turnaround ability he showed in taking Carolina from 1-15 to the Super Bowl over the course of two years. Elway drafted Von Miller, who finished the season with a franchise-high 18 1/2 sacks. And Elway, of course, signed Manning while also jettisoning Tim Tebow, whose success in Denver created a confusing, emotional mix that might have made it difficult for a less-beloved figure to sort out.

``I don't look so much at who was here, who wasn't here, who gets credit,'' Fox said. ``It's more what that one guy in 53 can bring to the team and bring to winning a world championship.''

Of Denver's 53 guys, Manning, of course, is No. 1. The quarterback is in the hunt for his fifth Most Valuable Player award. Nearly an entire page of the five-page handout from the Broncos is dedicated to listing his achievements this season.

Among them:

-Single-season franchise records for completions (400), yards (4,659), completion percentage (68.6), touchdowns (37) and passer rating (105.8).

-Tied a personal best and set a team record with nine 300-yard games.

-Became first quarterback to make a Pro Bowl after missing the previous year due to injury.

-Led Denver to 11 straight wins by at least seven points, tied for the second-longest streak of all time.

``I had no real expectations for what this year would be like, so I don't know if you can exceed expectations if you never really had any,'' Manning said after Denver wrapped up home-field advantage with a 38-3 win over the Chiefs on Sunday. ``Some things were really kind of wait-and-see for me, but it's been a gratifying regular season and very humbling. I have to admit that.''

Fox is using the bye week to stay sharp, calling for short, crisp practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and a mandatory weightlifting session Saturday, mainly to keep the team ``focused, not concerned with flights to other states and those type of things, especially close states.'' (Think, Nevada.)

Meanwhile, in another telling symbol of a team's success, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will use the bye week to interview for newly vacant head coaching jobs in Arizona and Chicago.

``With team success, you get recognition,'' Fox said. ``Those guys are all professionals. They understand the focus it's going to take for us to get where we want.''

After the weekend, the Broncos will know who their next opponent is - either Cincinnati, Baltimore or Manning's old team, the Indianapolis Colts.

The playoff game is scheduled for Jan. 12 - two years minus one day to the date Fox came to the Broncos, who were a mess at the time, reeling from an embarrassing videotaping scandal, a midseason coaching change, a league-worst defense and the presence of Tebow, who was drafted by a coach who wouldn't put him in the lineup. That coach was Josh McDaniels, now offensive coordinator for the Patriots, whose name still raises hackles in Denver.

In so many ways, however, his departure feels like longer than two years ago.

``It's a lot of people with a commitment to work hard to make it happen,'' Fox said. ``It's a big commitment. Not just a little bit of interest. It's a commitment to being world champions and we've been working on it for two years. We get that opportunity again to get in the tournament and see what happens.''

Notes: Barring a change in the NFL schedule, either the Broncos or Raiders will play a Thanksgiving game at Dallas in 2013, which hosts an AFC team in the traditional holiday contest next year. Denver will also travel to Houston and New England while hosting the Washington Redskins and former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. ... The Broncos outscored opponents 299-138 in the second halves of games this season, the third-highest second-half scoring differential since the 1970 merger. ... Broncos gave up fewest sacks in NFL (21) this season while sharing the league lead in sacks on defense (52). ... Denver finished fourth in total offense and second in total defense, marking fourth time in team history finishing in top five in both categories. ... The team said the 5,000 playoff tickets it put on sale Monday sold out in nine minutes.


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John Carlson gets the better of John Klingberg in duel of top defensemen


John Carlson gets the better of John Klingberg in duel of top defensemen

One week ago, the hockey world was captivated by the matchup of Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine, two players battling for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer. Tuesday's matchup between the Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars once again pitted two competitors locked in a point battle together in John Carlson and John Klingberg.

Carlson and Klingberg entered Tuesday's games with 59 points each, tied for the league lead in points among defensemen. In a 4-3 win for Washington, both defensemen delivered phenomenal performances as each recorded two points, two assists for Klingberg and a goal and an assist for Carlson.

Tuesday's game was the latest example this season of Carlson rising to the occasion. He has been at his best when he has been needed the most such as when he was averaging 27:46 of ice time a night while Matt Niskanen was out injured.


Carlson's ability to deliver has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.

"John's having just a whale of a year, obviously," Niskanen said. "Monster year. Production, been carrying the load all year. He's been just a stalwart back there for us. He leads the way."

"The numbers don't lie, he's been having an unreal season," T.J. Oshie said. "Definitely on the points side of things, but maybe some parts that don't get talked about, the defensive side of things. He rarely loses a battle. It's very encouraging, it gets the bench going when he plays like that."

After the game, Carlson tried to downplay the notion that he elevated his game in response to playing against Klingberg.

"No," Carlson said when asked if he was motivated by the points race. "I think the guys do a good job of pumping that up in the locker room. I just want to go out there and win. I think we played a good game tonight so that's most important."

But while his words were subdued, his play was anything but.

Despite both players getting two points, Carlson got the better of his counterpart by scoring the game-winning goal in the third period, a one-timer slap shot to beat goalie Kari Lehtnonen, to lead Washington to the win.


Carlson may say he was not motivated by Klingberg, but his play certainly seemed to suggest otherwise.

"I think they both know, they know the stats," Barry Trotz said. "They know who they're lined up  [against]. They're proud athletes. You're in a business where there's a lot of alpha males. That's what it is."

Of course, Carlson may not need a matchup with Klingberg to motivate him.

In the final year of his contract, Carlson has picked a good time to set new career highs in goals, assist and points. With a cap hit of just under $4 million, the 28-year-old blueliner will be due a significant raise in the offseason. That price tag continues to climb with every good performance as Carlson continues to cement himself among the league's top defensemen.

"Obviously he's very motivated," Trotz said. "He's in the last year of his contract. He'll be motivated. He's putting out points. He's gotten better and better. He's more poised every year. When he's intense and detailed in his game, he's a top defenseman in the league and he shows it."

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Need to Know: Redskins player quick hitters—Offensive starters

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Need to Know: Redskins player quick hitters—Offensive starters

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, March 21, 36 days before the NFL draft.  

Redskins starters quick hitters—offense

The last couple of days here I looked at how the depth charts are shaping up with a little bit of commentary (offense, defense). Today and tomorrow I’ll take a closer look at the starters with some quick hitters about each one, starting today with the offense.

QB Alex Smith—The deal is done, and the Redskins have their man for five years at $22.2 million per year or, if they prefer, three years at $23.7 million per. It seems like most fans are behind him but there will have to be a few more wins than losses this fall for that to become permanent.

RB Samaje Perine—He got better as the year went on, averaging nearly a half yard per carry more in the last seven games compared to the first nine. But the 3.4 average per carry certainly did not stop both Doug Williams and Jay Gruden from talking about drafting a running back early.

TE Jordan Reed—According to reports, he is rehabbing well from the hamstring and toe injuries that severely limited him last year. Still, expect him to be kept in bubble wrap until training camp and even then, his action may be limited.

WR Josh Doctson—Did Kirk Cousins look away from Doctson too often, lacking the confidence in him to let him go get the 50-50 balls? Will Smith have more confidence in Doctson? The answers to those questions may determine if the third-year receiver breaks out in 2018 or he continues to tease with flashes of ability.

WR Paul Richardson—He’s capable of the acrobatic catch, which should be fun to watch. Richardson was good with Russell Wilson on the off-schedule plays, maybe he can do the same with Smith.

WR Jamison Crowder—I guess it’s fair to say he had an off year in 2017 but his receiving yardage only dropped by 60 yards from 2016. It will be interesting to see if they keep him in as the punt returner after he averaged 6.3 yards per return (23rd of 25 qualifiers) last year.

LT Trent Williams—The six-time Pro Bowler is still in the relatively early stages of recovering from surgery to the knee that kept him from practicing from about Week 6 on. Don’t look for him until training camp and even then, the early workload is likely to be light.

LG Arie Kouandjio—This is the one offensive position that remains up in the air. Kouandjio has shown some grit as a spot starter but I don’t think the organization views him as a 16-game starter.

C Chase Roullier—Shortly after Roullier got the starting job when Spencer Long went out injured, Jay Gruden said that Roullier would be the Redskins’ center “for a long time”. There is no reason to doubt that at this point in time.

RG Brandon Scherff—His concern no longer is trying to live up to having been the fifth pick of the draft. Scherff has to play well enough to justify his 2019 option-year salary, which will be in the vicinity of $13 million.

RT Morgan Moses—He had surgery to repair his ankles, which were an issue most of last season. Still, he didn’t miss a start. Like Williams, even if he’s ready for training camp, don’t expect to see a whole lot of him.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 27
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 129
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 173

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