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A day later, Broncos still making sense of loss

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A day later, Broncos still making sense of loss

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The intended target for Peyton Manning's last pass of the season didn't sleep much after the game that brought Denver's run to the Super Bowl to an unexpected halt.

``I kept playing it back in my head,'' Brandon Stokley said Sunday, as he discussed the loss in a rapidly clearing locker room. ``It's like a bad dream that keeps playing over and over.''

But yes, that really happened.

The 38-35 loss to the Baltimore Ravens goes down as one of the most crushing defeats in Broncos history, as much for when it came - two games short of the Super Bowl - as the surreal way it came about.

Though Manning's interception in overtime and Rahim Moore's broken coverage stand out as lowlights from the loss, this was a game filled with mistakes, questionable decisions by both coach and quarterback and more missed opportunities than the Broncos compiled in 11 games before that, all wins.

It brought a sudden close to a season that, at times, seemed almost destined to end at the Super Bowl in New Orleans.

Instead, the Broncos became the ninth top-seeded team to lose in the divisional round over the past eight years.

As the players packed their belongings in plastic trash bags, signed a few jerseys for each other and said goodbye, both young and old had grasped two simple facts of life in the NFL: Teams change from year to year; and one good season does not guarantee another.

``You'll never have the same nucleus, the same group of guys that we have,'' second-year linebacker Von Miller said. ``I wasn't ready to let it go yet. Especially the way it ended.''

Moore, who blew the coverage that allowed Jacoby Jones to score the tying touchdown with 31 seconds left in regulation, scooted in and out of the locker room quickly and didn't do interviews.

Manning, whose three turnovers led to 17 points, including the game-winning field goal in the second overtime, didn't make himself available either.

On Saturday after the loss, he acknowledged the throw across his body, back to the middle of the field to Stokley, was a bad decision punctuated by bad execution.

``We really have put a lot of hard work into this season and made a lot of strides and accomplished a lot,'' Manning said in the postgame interview. ``So, it definitely stings, ending on a loss like we had tonight.''

Manning fell to 9-11 for his career in playoff games, matching Brett Favre for most postseason losses in NFL history. He had a near-career year, throwing for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns, both second best in his 14 healthy seasons.

Until the playoff game, he looked as steady and consistent as he has since he entered the league in 1998. His steadily improving health figures to get better, as well. But he's 36, and at that age, there are no guarantees.

The offense he returns to next year will have most of its pieces still in place. Left tackle Ryan Clady is a free agent, but will likely be Denver's franchise player if he doesn't agree to terms. Knowshon Moreno would likely be the front-runner at running back.

Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas will be back. Stokley is a 36-year-old free agent who had a 544-yard season and wants to play more.

On defense, the Broncos have Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who combined for 29 1/2 sacks over the season and combined for the only sack on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco on Saturday.

The defensive backfield was a mess Saturday, and though Moore was virtually in tears after the game, nobody felt this loss as deeply as 34-year-old Champ Bailey, the 14-year veteran who has still never been to the Super Bowl.

Torrey Smith beat him twice for touchdowns, the first by outrunning him through the post, the second by adjusting to a ball thrown behind him along the right sideline.

``It's tough because I know I'm better than what I showed on that tape yesterday,'' Bailey said. ``There are a couple plays I'd like to have back. But if you haven't been beat on the corner, you haven't played.''

Bailey is one of two Broncos who were around in 2005, when they had home-field advantage in the AFC title game and lost 34-17 to Pittsburgh. It took Denver six years to return to the playoffs.

This team, Bailey said, was better than that team.

``The best team that didn't do anything,'' he called the 2012 Broncos. ``It's frustrating. But that's the reality of it. We got to the playoffs, but you have to win in the playoffs for it to mean something. So, it's just another year where we came up short.''

NOTES: RB Willis McGahee said he got cleared Sunday and would have been available to play next week in the AFC title game. ... Moreno, who left the game in the third quarter Saturday, was walking without assistance and said his knee injury was not serious. ... CB Tracy Porter, who sat out 10 games and the playoffs because of illness or injury, is almost certain to be playing elsewhere next season. He signed a one-year, $4 million contract in the offseason. ... In Sunday's NFC playoff game, Atlanta moved the ball 41 yards in 12 seconds to set up the game-winning field goal with 8 seconds left. On Saturday, coach John Fox chose to run out the clock with 31 seconds left and the game tied at the end of regulation.

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The Ravens appear to have their entire coaching staff returning for the 2020 season

The Ravens appear to have their entire coaching staff returning for the 2020 season

While the Ravens roster will likely remain mostly together for the 2020 regular season, it appears the coaching staff will stay entirely intact, too. 

After both coordinators, Greg Roman and Don “Wink” Martindale, had interviews with the Browns and Giants, respectively, those jobs were filled by Kevin Stefanski and Joe Judge. 

And more recently, quarterbacks coach James Urban and tight ends coach Bobby Engram were requested for interviews by the Eagles. Harbaugh said both Engram and Urban pulled out of the running and weren’t interested.

“It looks like our staff is going to stay together,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I can tell you that. I’m not saying anything couldn’t happen; there are always things brewing for a certain period of time.”

The Ravens have every offensive starter from the divisional playoff game under contract for next season, and now appear to have the offensive coordinator and all of the position coaches back on-board for another run too. The Ravens set a franchise record with 531 points, led by Lamar Jackson.

Things are still fluid, as a job opportunity for anyone on the staff can pop up out of the blue. But for now, the Ravens look like they’ll run the entire operation back for another go at a Super Bowl.

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John Harbaugh defends Lamar Jackson's playoff performance

John Harbaugh defends Lamar Jackson's playoff performance

Coach John Harbaugh, just six days after his team’s disappointing 28-12 loss to the Titans in the AFC playoffs, has already had to defend his quarterback.

Faced with some criticism after Jackson finished 31-of-59 passing, and three total turnovers, Harbaugh mentioned how far Jackson has come in the last year — which also ended in an early playoff loss at home.

“It’s really interesting to look at Lamar Jackson, because look at the progress he made in the last year,” Harbaugh said Friday. “Because the same question, I think you might have asked it last year, how is he going to get better going forward? And he did a good job, right? He’s 23 years old. He’s younger than Joe Burrow. So, he has a pretty good head start right now.”

Jackson is now 0-2 in the playoffs with a 19-3 regular season record. 



He’s likely the MVP this season after he passed for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,000 yards, setting the single-season rushing record for a quarterback along the way. He led the NFL in passing touchdowns and carried the most prolific offense in the league to a league-best 14-2. 

Harbaugh isn’t worried that his quarterback, who is just 23-years-old, hasn’t found his playoff success yet.

“The Manning brothers combined to, they had five losses in their first five playoff games before they won one,” Harbaugh explained. (Joe) Montana, (Steve) Young and (Brett) Favre didn’t start a playoff game until their third season, (Drew) Brees and (Troy) Aikman, until their fourth season, and (Aaron) Rodgers until his fifth season.”

After the season ended, Harbaugh added that Jackson went to his office to discuss the offseason and what he needed to do to improve. 

While Harbaugh and the offensive coaching staff had a plan for Jackson to improve, Jackson “nailed” each and every single critique that the coaches had laid out for him.

“I’m really confident in Lamar and his understanding the things he needs to do to get better, and that he’s going to work really hard to keep building himself up as a player,” Harbaugh said.

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