NCAA

Stress test? Broncos use practice to keep it real

201212231525555044554-p2.jpeg

Stress test? Broncos use practice to keep it real

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Last year, the Denver Broncos had plenty of practice - fall behind, stay close, go into hurry-up mode late and find some way to pull out a game with hardly any time left.

This year, about the only thing the Broncos are perfecting late in games is how to line up in victory formation.

With a game against the Chiefs (2-13) coming up Sunday, odds are against the Broncos (12-3) finally getting a dose of late-game drama. That means they could very well go into the postseason without having once endured the stress of needing the make-or-break score in 2012.

Not even Peyton Manning, who loves to rehearse every situation and every scenario as many times as possible with his new team, can give the Broncos the real-time practice they need in that department.

``You can't do anything about changing the outcome of the game,'' Manning said. ``You try to simulate game-like scenarios in practice. It's not quite the same as a game, so that's something coach Fox and the staff have tried to do all season long.''

Through 15 games, the Broncos haven't faced a single one that has come down to the wire. Two of their three losses came by less than a touchdown, but in the 27-21 loss to Atlanta, they didn't have the ball at the end, and in the 31-25 loss to Houston, they got it back with 20 seconds and no timeouts at their own 14-yard line - only time for a completion, a spike and one desperation play.

Meanwhile, the Broncos' 10-game winning streak has come by an average margin of 14 points. They've won three of those games by eight and another by seven - close enough to give the defense practice at some version of the prevent and the offense work on the run-heavy, clock-killing ``four-minute drill.''

But when it comes to that desperation drive with the clock running out, the kind perfected in this city by John Elway in the 1980s and 90s - nada.

Practice situations, says offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, can take a team only so far.

``The most important thing as a coach is to prepare your players for that,'' he said. ``We talk about situational football every day. If this situation comes up, what would we do? On the weekends after you see certain games, as a staff you talk about certain situations in other games and then you try to relay that message to the players.''

Last season, the Broncos had no shortage of real-life, late-game stress situations. With Tim Tebow at quarterback, they got the winning score in six games in the last two minutes of regulation or overtime.

This season, Manning has, in fact, engineered three game-winning drives in the fourth quarter to bring his career total to 48, the most in the NFL since the 1970 merger. But none of these has been a nail-biter. The latest go-ahead score came with 9:03 remaining in the Oct. 15 game against San Diego - the Broncos overcame a 24-0 deficit for a 35-24 win to start their winning streak.

Eric Decker, who has been in Denver for both Tebow and Manning, said every practice this year includes two-minute drills and lots of scenarios ``just to make sure we have things planned before we get into it.''

``But we have a lot of guys in this locker room who were here last year,'' Decker said. ``To be able to play from behind is something you can't practice but it's something you build as you have experience and have success with it. I think we've had success with it so the confidence is there.''

``But really,'' Decker said, ``our mindset is to get ahead and not have to worry about it.''

---

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

Cavaliers clamp down on Pitt

usatsi_10652525.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Images

Cavaliers clamp down on Pitt

PITTSBURGH -- No. 1 Virginia allowed just seven points in the first half and secured the regular-season Atlantic Coast Conference title outright with a 66-37 win over Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Freshman guard De'Andre Hunter came off the bench to lead the Cavaliers (26-2, 14-1 ACC) with 14 points in a game that didn't take big offensive efforts from Virginia's regulars. Of the five starters, only guard Ty Jerome exceeded his season average with 13 points.

The game was never competitive, as Virginia started on an 8-0 run and Pitt didn't make a field goal until Jared Wilson-Frame hit a 3-pointer at the midway point of the first half.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett rested most of his regulars in the second half. Reserve Nigel Johnson added 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting.

Parker Stewart led Pitt (8-22, 0-17) with 12 points, all on 3-pointers. Pitt had next to no presence inside. The Panthers were outscored 28-8 in the paint and out-rebounded 36-24. Seven of Pitt's 11 made field goals were from beyond the arc.

Quick Links

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

3 reasons the Caps beat the Sabres

The Caps could not shake Buffalo for two periods, but a dominant finish on Saturday helped them pull away for a 5-1 win. Here's how they finally put away the Sabres.

A quick start

Strong starts go a long way towards helping a team in the middle of a slump. It's a confidence boost for a group in desperate need of one and the Caps got that boost on Saturday from Evgeny Kuznetsov. Kuznetsov used his wheels to zip in behind the defense and score just 50 seconds into the game. Washington led 1-0 at the end of the first, just the second time in 19 games they have held a lead after the opening 20 minutes.

RELATED: SEE THE 3 STARS FROM CAPS-SABRES HERE

Andre Burakovsky snapping a second period slump

It looked in the second period like the Caps were caught trying to protect the lead again, but Andre Burakovsky woke the team back up with his incredible highlight end-to-end goal. It really looked like Buffalo was going to tie the game at one, but instead, Burakovsky extended the lead to two. Going end to end the way he did shows a player who is starting to play with some confidence, something Burakovsky has lacked for much of the season.

Ovechkin's two-goal third period

Buffalo would not go away. Sam Reinhart got the Sabres on the board just 14 seconds into the third period and suddenly the Caps found themselves in a one-goal game again. But Ovechkin ended any hopes for the comeback as he struck in the top corner of the net on the power play from the office. He would later add a deflection goal to extend the lead to 5-1, giving a scuffling Washington team the dominant win they so sorely needed.