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Big win sets Broncos up for week off in playoffs

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Big win sets Broncos up for week off in playoffs

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) When things weren't clicking at the beginning of the season, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos spent most of their time looking at the film and working out the kinks on the practice field - and very little time focusing on the standings.

The work is paying off, and if they bothered to look at those standings Monday, they would've liked what they saw.

After their runaway win over Baltimore and New England's loss to San Francisco, the Broncos are the No. 2 seed in the AFC and only need victories at home over Cleveland and Kansas City, combined record 7-21, to wrap up a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Eight of the 10 AFC teams to make the Super Bowl under the current playoff format have had a first-round bye.

``I always thought if we kept getting better, there was no way we couldn't be one of the top teams,'' Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``It was just a matter of keeping your nose down, not worrying about your record, keep working and everything will take care of itself.''

During their nine-game winning streak - longest since they won the first 13 games of the 1998 Super Bowl season - the Broncos (11-3) have steadily gotten better.

One of the issues was how they would fare against a winning team, the likes of which they faced only twice over the first eight wins of the streak. The trip to Baltimore, against a struggling Ravens team, but still a team that has qualified for the playoffs with a 9-5 record, was considered their biggest litmus test before the playoffs begin.

They passed it and didn't even need Manning at his very best to do so.

The Broncos quarterback threw for 204 yards, his lowest output of the season.

But the Broncos were so good everywhere else - rushing for 163 yards, creating two turnovers and returning one for a touchdown, milking the clock in the fourth quarter with a 9:59 drive - they didn't need Manning to do much more than hand off.

In fact, Manning handed the ball off 45 times Sunday, the most in his career.

``Our goal is to try to get better every week,'' he said. ``I feel like we probably have in some areas. You're still looking to play that perfect 60-minute game, and that's your goal every week.''

After Week 5, a 31-21 loss at New England that dropped Denver to 2-3, nobody was mistaking Manning or the Broncos for perfect.

Still getting used to his new offense and his new teammates, Manning was struggling. He threw a career-high 26 incompletions in a loss to Houston and had the three first-quarter interceptions in a loss to Atlanta.

There were still questions about his arm strength, and others about whether he would get used to playing at full speed again.

Manning brushed off most of the criticism, bristled at some of it and, mostly, kept believing that more time with his teammates would solve many of the problems.

Since Week 6, when the winning streak began, the Broncos have averaged 386 yards a game (sixth in the NFL) and scored 30.4 points (second), while allowing 291 yards (second) and 17.8 points (third).

``I knew we had a really good team,'' receiver Brandon Stokley said. ``A lot of people on the outside wanted to push the panic button. But for us, it was just about improving every week. We were a relatively young team with the system we put in, and just getting better, knowing that good things could happen if we kept working hard, that's what we've done.''

Even with the victory over the Ravens, the question remains: How will the Broncos fare against the league's elite? Their only three losses came to Atlanta (12-2), Houston (12-2) and New England (10-4) and Denver hasn't faced a team of that caliber since.

The fact that the Broncos would face a possible rematch with the Patriots at home could give the Broncos a supposed advantage in a series in which they've lost their three meetings in the John Fox era by a combined score of 117-54.

Two of those games, including last year's 45-10 playoff loss (with Tim Tebow at quarterback), were in New England.

But ask any of the Broncos about the path to the Super Bowl that is clearer than it was two days, to say nothing of nine games, ago and, well, you mainly get the trademark blank stare and the pat answer.

``Right now, I know we can control our own destiny, but if we don't play our best game against Cleveland this week, that will be all for naught,'' coach John Fox said.

Notes: Fox did not list RB Knowshon Moreno on the injury report, though Moreno could be seen on the sideline during the fourth quarter with trainers looking at his back. ... Fox downplayed a tweet from CB Tracy Porter, who has expressed his dissatisfaction about the lack of playing time after losing his job to Chris Harris. ``He just needs to focus on getting better every day,'' Fox said. ``I saw good improvement last week.'' Porter, who has been cleared to play after dealing with health issues, hasn't played since Oct. 7. ... Fox said KR/PR Trindon Holliday would still be the returner even though he has fumbled four times since signing with the Broncos in October. He has also scored two touchdowns.

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Ravens coronavirus protocols made opt-outs an afterthought for Greg Roman and Don Martindale

Ravens coronavirus protocols made opt-outs an afterthought for Greg Roman and Don Martindale

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, NFL players and staff were tasked with a tough decision as training camp begun. They could either participate in the season and face the risks that come with it, or opt out if they felt unsafe.

For Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Don 'Wink" Martindale, the choice was easy. Based on what they've seen from the team and league in terms of safety, they never considered not coaching in 2020.

"It never really entered my mind," Roman said during a Zoom call with media on Wednesday.

"Well, I think with the protocol that’s been established by the league it's obviously a safe environment its football and I never thought about opting out," Martindale said. "I don’t think they would have ever brought us back if they thought it was a high rate of danger with the pandemic. I felt safe coming back and taking all precautions and protocol, wear our masks and do all of the six feet apart and social distancing."

RELATED: RAVENS WON'T RULE OUT QUARANTINING LAMAR JACKSON

While Martindale applauds the league's efforts to control the virus, which now includes daily testing through September 5, the Ravens have specifically made an effort to prioritize the health and safety of everyone involved.

From Lamar Jackson opting to become a "Bubble Boy" to Mark Ingram stating that a positive mindset and cautious behavior will benefit the league, it's clear the team has bought into the idea that a season will only happen if everyone is committed to following the protocols to a tee.

Additionally, Roman says he's been blown away with the technology brought in and the extra precautions Baltimore has taken in order to lessen the risk of infection. That includes a device that alerts someone when they are within six feet of another individual.

The pre-planning prior to arrivals and constant improvements were the reasons the offensive coordinator never had doubts about the campaign.

"Resources and planning that this organization put into the facility procedures, it’s a thought that never crossed my mind," Roman said. "Frankly the unbelievable prep forethought, resources, space, that everybody was able to come up with some great solutions, it never entered my mind. If I came and saw something different you never know but impressive what our organization has done in this unique situation for all of us."

With training camp just beginning and contact practices set to get underway soon, there are still numerous obstacles the league will have to face. But through the initial phase, the Ravens have shown that health and safety are their biggest concerns, and that approach won't change. That mentality made opting in the only reasonable choice for Martindale, Roman and others.

"We’re all in this together. Taking care of each other and each other’s families. Show your discipline and mental toughness, wear your masks in meetings," Martindale said. "I've never thought about opting out."

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Ravens team doctor won't rule out quarantining Lamar Jackson

Ravens team doctor won't rule out quarantining Lamar Jackson

The Ravens don't have any plans to quarantine the unanimous NFL MVP -- yet.

Head team physician Dr. Andrew Tucker spoke with local reporters on a Zoom call Wednesday afternoon on a variety of topics, including NFL safety protocols, mitigating COVID-19 concerns, and more. He also addressed a popular suggestion among fans online: quarantining quarterbacks.

No team wants to lose any of their depth, but some players and positions are clearly more critical than others. At the top of the list is obviously the team's quarterbacks, and few signal-callers are more essential to their team's success than Lamar Jackson is to the Ravens.

With that in mind, Dr. Tucker was asked if Baltimore is considering any plans to isolate Jackson and the other quarterbacks from the rest of the team, to take extra precautions that the position group doesn't see a coronavirus outbreak during the season.

"Not that I know of. I can't speculate on if things change in the community or change in the team, there might be a different approach. I wouldn't rule it out," Tucker said.

It appears that, for now, the Ravens aren't planning to turn Jackson into a true Bubble Boy. As an organization, they have taken countless steps to keep every player as safe and healthy as possible amidst a global pandemic, and they are trusting their protocols to keep Jackson on the field. But it's notable that Dr. Tucker declined to rule out the possibility of things changing down the line.

Obviously, most teams are in a state of flux in regards to COVID-19, and they all have more information everyday. The impact of the virus spreading both within the organization and the greater Baltimore community could lead the Ravens to reverse course in order to protect their most valuable asset.

Jackson, in his own words, hasn't had "one tick" of coronavirus in him yet. The Ravens are going to do everything they possibly can to keep it that way.

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