From Comcast SportsNetDENVER (AP) -- That's the Peyton Manning the Denver Broncos and their fans have been waiting all summer to see. Magnificent. A machine. On the money. And no longer just a memory.Manning was close to perfect in his final regular-season tuneup Sunday, throwing his first two touchdown passes for the Denver Broncos in a 29-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.In less than a quarter of work, Manning completed 10 of 12 passes for 122 yards, including TD tosses of 10 and 5 yards to Eric Decker, and the only two misses were a dropped pass by Joel Dreessen and an errant throw to Brandon Stokley, who was held on the play but didn't draw the flag.After managing one TD to go with four turnovers in his first seven possessions this preseason, Manning drove the Broncos (1-2) to scores on all three of his series, then put on his visor with 46 seconds left in the first quarter after staking Denver to a 17-0 lead."I thought we did some good things today," Manning said. "We moved the ball pretty well and we got two touchdowns. It would have been nice to get three, had to settle to for a field goal. I thought the running game was good. Willis (McGahee) made some nice runs, had some nice holes by the offensive line, the receivers made some nice plays, as well."The Broncos finally showed more than just a glimpse of the offensive firepower they can have with the four-time MVP under center."I think it was nice just to start fast and finish off some drives and put some points on the board and play some good football," Stokley said. "I think that was more important than him throwing the first touchdown pass."The Broncos (No. 10 in the AP Pro32) mixed up their looks, throwing in some no-huddle with four-wide receiver sets, using fullback Chris Gronkowski at the point of attack and sending tailback Lance Ball out wide to run routes like a receiver."That's what this preseason is for. You want to win the game but you want to get a look at different players," Manning said. "No matter what grouping we were in we showed we could move the ball."Alex Smith threw a 49-yard TD pass and David Akers kicked five field goals for the Niners (2-1), who outscored the Broncos' backups 19-0 in the second half but lost wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. to an ankle injury early in the second half.For the second straight week, the Broncos' backups were awful. They've now been outscored 40-0 after halftime in the last two games.Denver's first drive stalled when the replacement officials failed to whistle cornerback Carlos Rogers for a blatant hold on a third-down pass to Stokley, and the Broncos settled for Matt Prater's 53-yard field goal.Manning was money after that.He completed all six of his passes for 83 yards on a long drive that ended with his first touchdown throw in orange and blue, a 10-yard strike to Decker, who beat Rogers across the middle. The highlight of drive was a 38-yard pass to Ball, who beat linebacker Larry Grant.Ball, though, bruised his ribs on the play and didn't return. He said afterward he was fine.So was Manning, who was blasted by linebacker Parys Haralson in the chest right as he released his longest pass of the preseason. After Ball came down with it, Manning bounced right up, raced downfield, lined up in the no-huddle and hit running back Willis McGahee for 14 yards to the San Francisco 12.It was the second time Manning, who missed all of last season with a neck injury that required four operations, had been hit hard in the preseason, and both times shook off the cobwebs and responded with a big pass for the first down."The offense was excited to move the ball," Manning said. "We had some rhythm, we huddled today yet we still played at an up-tempo pace."Linebacker Wesley Woodyard recovered a fumbled snap for the Broncos (No. 10 in the AP Pro 32) at the San Francisco 24, and four plays later, Manning found Decker wide open by the back left pylon for his second touchdown and a 17-0 lead over the 49ers (No. 4).The Broncos' onside kick backfired when Matthew Willis touched the ball about a yard early, and Smith found tight end Vernon Davis all alone along the left sideline for a 49-yard score on the next snap."I was surprised," Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said of the Broncos' onside kick in the preseason. "But I'm glad they did it. It's good for us because you always have to be aware of it."Manning said he'd have gone out for another series had the Broncos recovered the onside kick. When they didn't, his day was done."I feel very comfortable where he is and rather than put him out there in harm's way, we took him out," Broncos coach John Fox said.Caleb Hanie, locked in a backup battle with rookie Brock Osweiler to serve as Manning's primary understudy, underthrew Decker and former Broncos cornerback Perrish Cox intercepted at midfield. That led to Akers' first field goal, from 33 yards out. Hanie bounced back to throw a 5-yard TD pass to Dreessen that made it 24-10 at halftime."I don't want to say it's just the preseason because this is a time to get better," Niners linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. "It's a time you can really showcase what your team is capable of doing. I don't know but it's been a scary start to this point."Smith finished 5 of 7 for 69 yards, and his pocket of protection was much better than it had been during the preseason."It was a little hard to get in a rhythm," Smith said, who was sacked just once. "I thought the young guys did a great job in the second half. We have some stuff to clean up obviously."San Francisco's ground game, which had gained an NFL-best 378 yards through the first two weeks of the preseason, was stymied by the Broncos. With LaMichael James (left ankle) and Brandon Jacobs (left knee) sitting this one out, the 49ers were held to 14 yards on nine first-half carries, including two runs for minus-4 yards by Frank Gore.That all changed after halftime as the Niners finished with 139 yards rushing. Anthony Dixon had a 26-yard TD run and Akers kicked field goals of 45, 21, 32 and 44 yards while the Broncos sputtered once again with Manning on the sideline.Notes: Manning's passer rating of 148.6 was nearly 100 points higher than what it was (48.8) in the first two preseason games. ... Broncos rookie RB Ronnie Hillman made his preseason debut after dealing with a pulled right hamstring and gained 29 yards on 10 carries. "I'll plan on playing better next week and playing a lot faster," Hillman said. ... X-rays were negative on Ginn's right ankle. ... Rookie CB Omar Bolden bruised his left knee.
Here is what you need to know on this Monday, February 19, 23 days before NFL free agency starts.
—One possible solution to the left guard spot is perhaps being overlooked. Ty Nsekhe played there some last year, starting the game in Dallas and playing there until Morgan Moses got injured, forcing him to move to right tackle. In December I asked Jay Gruden if Nsekhe might move to guard in 2018. “I think Ty is a big man and a very good tackle, but in the offseason when we have more time, maybe we can feature him at some guard when we’ve got all our guys back,” he said. “Feature him some” doesn’t mean that they will make him a starter; perhaps they want him to be the top option to fill in at four of the five OL positions. But it’s something to keep an eye on if they don’t land a left guard solution in free agency or the draft.
—When I posted about Albert Breer’s report that Kirk Cousins would file a grievance if the Redskins put the franchise tag on him in an effort to trade him, I pulled up a copy of the CBA to see the language on which Cousins could base his case. I read through the Article 10, which deals with the franchise tag twice and I saw nothing of it. But Mike Florio found it in Article 4, the one that deals with player contracts. “A Club extending a Required Tender must, for so long as that Tender is extended, have a good faith intention to employ the player receiving the Tender at the Tender compensation level during the upcoming season.” Since the Redskins clearly have no intention of employing Cousins after the Alex Smith trade, this seems to be a fairly simple case. In reality, it never is.
—I tweeted this last week:
A top NFL executive on the 2018 free agent class via @JasonLaCanfora "On paper, it's the worst group of free agents I've seen since I've been doing this."— Rich Tandler (@TandlerNBCS) February 14, 2018
However, possible cap casualties from other teams are not included in that group. That won’t turn the pool of players who will become available to sign into a bunch of potential franchise changers. Still, there could be a number of players in whom the Redskins could be interested in like RB DeMarco Murray, WRs Emmanuel Sanders and Torrey Smith, edge rusher Elvis Dumervil, and DL Brandon Mebane. A plus to signing players who have been waived is that they don’t count in the formula that determines compensatory draft picks. The Redskins have never really paid attention to that in the past but with potential high comp picks at stake if they lose both Kirk Cousins and Bashaud Breeland, this could be a good year to start.
—NFL Combine (3/1) 10
—NFL Draft (4/26) 66
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 202
Tandler on Twitter
I’ve been through the disaster that reaching causes dozens of times. Look no further than the second round of the 2008 draft.— Rich Tandler (@TandlerNBCS) February 18, 2018
In case you missed it
- Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for rushing game
- The Redskins week that was—Costly cornerbacks, offseason blueprint
- Cousins reportedly ready to file grievance if Skins tag him
- No cap casualties for the Redskins?
Bradley Beal may have had a slow start in the three-point contest on Saturday night, but in Sunday's All-Star Game he worked quickly to make the most of his relatively small window of playing time.
Beal checked in for the first time with 5:45 left in the first quarter and less than 25 seconds later had his first points on a two-handed dunk assisted by LeBron James.
1st quarter highlights: there was only one pic.twitter.com/vu1ir7AYDV— NBC Sports Wizards (@NBCSWizards) February 19, 2018
In his All-Star debut, Beal helped lead Team LeBron to a 148-145 victory over Team Stephen as the league utilizied a new format for the annual showcase.
Beal finished with 14 points and a steal in a productive night. He shot 5-for-10 from the field and an impressive 4-for-8 from long range.
Beal also tried to get a travelling call from the refs on Karl-Anthony Towns. Yeah, that's not likely to happen in an All-Star Game:
Bradley Beal’s 1st All Star game. pic.twitter.com/NDpbG8FVV6— Kyle Weidie (@Truth_About_It) February 19, 2018
Beal more than held his own and only played 16 minutes, which was good considering he has logged the fifth-most minutes of any player so far this season. A realistic best-case scenario was a strong showing and a short night and that's exactly what he got.
Not only does Beal play a lot of minutes, the Wizards need him now more than ever with John Wall's injury. He needs whatever rest he can get during this All-Star break.
Speaking of Wall, he was in the house despite being in the middle of his rehab from left knee surgery. Per usual, Wall was shining bright:
John Wall in his All-Star suit and of course some shades. pic.twitter.com/NxTaXZwwu6— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) February 19, 2018
The All-Star Game wasn't all about Beal, of course. Here are some other things that stood out...
*The new format and increased financial incentive were intended to make the game more competitive and that's what happened late in the fourth quarter. Usually, that's how these things go where the players will start trying at the end. But this time it seemed to be up a few levels and it was fun to watch.
Both teams scored in the 140s, so it wasn't exactly a defensive battle. No matter what the league does, the players will only try so hard for so long. The main goal of everyone's is to not get injured in a game that ultimately doesn't count for anything. Still, this was different and appears to have been a success.
*While everyone was focusing on the reunion of LeBron and Kyrie Irving the best beef was Joel Embiid vs. Russell Westbrook. Those two have traded waves to taunt each other at the end of wins in head-to-head matchups and it was clear on Sunday they still don't like each other. Westbrook tried to dunk all over Embiid in the first half, only to get blocked at the rim.
Westbrook's determination to dunk on Embiid was out of the ordinary for an All-Star Game. It was obvious what was on his mind:
Ok here we go. Embiid vs. Russ beef Round 3. Westbrook dares Jojo to shoot, tries to get him back at other end, snatched. pic.twitter.com/JnRwYraCiL— Rob Perez (@World_Wide_Wob) February 19, 2018
*Irving's handles are simply ridiculous. Check out this fake behind-the-back move he pulled with Giannis Antetkounmpo guarding him. Yes, it didn't fool the defender but it was impressive nonetheless:
Kyrie Irving with a fake behind the back dribble. Super smooth. pic.twitter.com/Ofjhtw6ZDx— Chase Hughes (@ChaseHughesNBCS) February 19, 2018
*LeBron is 33 years old, yet he was still running up and down the court faster than anyone and leaping above the rim to thrown down alley-oop after alley-oop. It is truly amazing and everyone should enjoy watching him while they can, regardless of whether they like the guy or not.
This was one of his dunks:
LeBron with the most hops of any 33-year-old on earth pic.twitter.com/i4FCcZaxkZ— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) February 19, 2018
LeBron took home MVP with a game-high 29 points, 10 rebounds, eight assists and a steal.
*The pregame show was quite bad. It was anchored by comedians Kevin Hart and Rob Riggle and, though they had some funny jokes, it lasted nearly 30 minutes. The whole thing was pretty much universally panned on social media. Fergie's national anthem was also roasted by the masses.
*The halftime show was much better. It began with N.E.R.D taking it back to their older days with 'Lapdance,' went to Migos performing 'Stir Fry' and swung back to N.E.R.D. who did their latest hit 'Lemon.'
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