Playoffs loom, Manning still looking to improve


Playoffs loom, Manning still looking to improve

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Here's one that won't come as a surprise: Peyton Manning writes down his New Year's resolutions on index cards.

``My dad, since I was a kid, he's been telling us, `Write them down,''' Manning said.

Though he refused to divulge what's on those cards, or what his lifetime success rate has been with those resolutions, he hasn't left much doubt about what his day-to-day goals on the football field were for 2012, the year of his comeback.

Work hard. Improve. Keep building chemistry.

Those are the only ways to get to the ultimate goal - winning the Super Bowl, which is something Manning and the Denver Broncos are now favored to do.

Yet to hear Manning tell it, even if the Broncos do win it all, there will still be room for improvement - quite a tall task for a quarterback who compiled some of the best numbers of his career and a team that finished tied for the league's best record at 13-3.

``I'm not sure you can do it all in one season,'' Manning said Wednesday, after the Broncos, the AFC's top-seeded team, practiced for the first time during their bye week. ``I think we've done a good job of being the best that we possibly can in this short period of time.''

What began as a season of mystery for Manning - How would his body react after missing more than a year with the neck injury? How would his new teammates respond to him? - has turned into one of his very best campaigns.

He threw 400 completions for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns, completed 68.6 percent of his passes and finished with a 105.8 passer rating - all franchise records and ranked second best of the 14 years he's played in the NFL.

He is in the mix for his fifth Most Valuable Player award, votes for which are being counted this week. On Wednesday, he received his second AFC offensive player of the week honor this year. It marked the 23rd time he's received that over his career, tied with Tom Brady for most ever.

``To be able to come out and participate like he's done, to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league, it's unbelievable,'' receiver Demaryius Thomas said. ``He had an injury that not many people come back from.''

His latest award came on the strength of a 23-for-29, 304-yard, three-touchdown game against Kansas City on Sunday. The highlights were his touchdowns to Eric Decker and Thomas, who stretched out (in Decker's case) or up (in Thomas' case) to make one-handed grabs on balls Manning put in places where only they, and not the defensive backs covering them, could catch them.

Were they passes he would've thrown to those receivers in Week 1?

``Probably would have thrown them earlier, not sure if we would've completed them,'' Manning said. ``It's hard to say. But there's no question, it would be just downright disappointing if we had not improved throughout the season.''

Manning, however, doesn't judge improvement simply on completions or any other numbers on the stat sheet.

It's a much more intangible thing to him.

Take the touchdowns against Kansas City. Manning said neither he nor the receivers had seen the kind of coverage the Chiefs were in on those plays until Sunday, the last week of the NFL season. The next time they see it, though, they'll have a readymade reference point.

``So if you play together long enough, then you can say, `Hey, remember Kansas City in 2012? Remember that? Oh, yeah,''' Manning said. ``I'm not going to have that much eligibility to be able to refer back too long, but those guys certainly will. It's been kind of like cramming for a test and I think both of those guys have put in the time to cram and we've really worked hard in the short time we've had together.''

In fact, it's the chemistry he's built with Thomas, Decker and the rest of the receivers that Manning lists as one of his most pleasant surprises this season.

``The rapport with the receivers has come probably quicker than I thought,'' he said. ``I really didn't know on some of the timing routes, some of the adjustments and things.''

It's not to say flaws don't exist, but ``I don't think it makes any sense to reveal those things with a game coming up.''

Indeed, it's now time to make the best of the hand they've got.

In Denver's case, it's a pretty good hand.

``There are still things that I wish would be better and I think you kind of have to pick and choose your battles,'' Manning said. ``It's, `Hey, we've only had 16 games together, we're not going to be able to fix that. But let's try to get really good at this. Let's be as good as we can at that.' Some things just take time.''

Notes: Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will have three interviews this weekend for vacant head-coaching positions - with Arizona, Buffalo and Chicago. The interviews will take place in Denver. ... Executive vice president of football operations John Elway denied the Chargers an opportunity to interview player personnel director Matt Russell for its vacant GM position. ... Though he wasn't required to give an injury report, Broncos coach John Fox said KR Trindon Holliday (ankle) was making progress. ``I think Trindon will be able to go next Saturday,'' Fox said. ... The Broncos are 0-1 vs. Baltimore in the postseason and 0-2 vs. Indianapolis, though both those games came when Manning was with the Colts. The Broncos and Bengals have never met in the playoffs.


Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

Wizards drop to precarious position in close Eastern Conference playoff race

As if they needed a reminder, the Wizards saw firsthand on Wednesday night just how much can change in a short period of time in the Eastern Conference playoff race where just two games separate the No. 3 and No. 6 teams.

That No. 6 team is now your Washington Wizards, who began the day in fourth place but lost their first game in four days on the same night both the Cavs and Sixers won theirs. 

The Wizards lost to the Spurs on Wednesday and managed only 90 points, their fewest since Jan. 22. It was a lackluster performance in a game the Wizards needed to treat with urgency. 


The Spurs sure did.

"We've gotta have a better mentality coming into games," guard Bradley Beal said. "The Spurs were fighting for playoff seeding just like we were."

The Wizards have now lost six of their last 10, yet all those games have come against teams currently holding playoff spots. Considering John Wall reamins out with a left knee injury, it's hard to fault them too much when they are staying afloat just fine in the big picture.

The problem is that the closer they get to the end of the season, the more these losses are magnified. They amount to missed opportunities, some bigger than others.

That was not lost on Beal, who considered the alternative. If the Wizards had beaten the Spurs, they would be sitting in fourth, two spots higher, and just a game-and-a-half out of third.

"Every time we have a chance to move up, we take two steps back," Beal lamented.


The Wizards are in a high stakes part of the standings where plenty is in the balance. They are fighting for home court advantage, something they would get in the third or fourth spots. And who they match up with will be paramount.

By falling to sixth, the Wizards are currently in line to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Pacers and Sixers are also good teams, they don't have LeBron James. Avoiding him and the Cavs would be ideal for the Wizards.

Beal has even bigger worries than that. He noted after the loss in San Antonio that they could fall even further if they aren't careful. They are now just a game-and-a-half up on the seventh-place Heat. 

"We've gotta realize what's at stake, man. The way we're going, we could keep dropping and mess around and be eighth. We've gotta do whatever it takes to win," he said.

The Wizards should be fine, if the previous two months are any indication. But Wednesday night was another example of how precarious things are for them this season in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference.


NBC Sports Washington is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Quick Links

Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread


Game 74 Capitals at Red Wings Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Detroit Red Wings

Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, Mich.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET

How to Watch: Capitals-Red Wings will be broadcast on NBCSN.

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


The Capitals (42-24-7) take on the Red Wings (27-35-11) Thursday, March 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET in Detroit.


The Capitals-Red Wings game will be broadcast on NBCSN. Coverage kicks off on NBC Sports Washington with Capitals FaceOff at 6:30 p.m. followed by Caps GameTime at 7:00 p.m. Check back with NBC Sports Washington after the game for Caps Extra and Caps Overtime at 10:30 p.m. for postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
7:30 p.m. — Capitals at Red Wings (on NBCSN)
10:00 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:30 p.m. — Caps Overtime


Here are the projected lines for the Caps-Red Wings game:

Alex Ovechkin -  Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana - Travis Boyd - Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson - Jay Beagle - Devante Smith-Pelly

Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos

Philipp Grubauer starts with Braden Holtby as backup

Scratches: Evgeny Kuznetsov (upper body injury), Alex Chiasson, Jakub Jerabek


You can watch the Capitals-Red Wings game on NBC Sports' live stream page.


Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.