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Fox stands by decision, Elway supports his coach

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Fox stands by decision, Elway supports his coach

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) John Fox would tell Peyton Manning to take the knee again.

John Elway, of all people, agreed with that call.

Given the ball at his 20 with 31 seconds, two timeouts and one of the best quarterbacks in the game, the Broncos coach decided to run out the clock and head to overtime.

Result: Baltimore 38, Denver 35. End of season in Broncoland.

Fox said he felt good about the decision when he made it Saturday, toward the end of one of the most disheartening losses in the franchise's history. After hashing it over during the last two sleepless nights, he stood by his decision.

``I'd do it again 10 times if it presented itself in that situation,'' he said Monday at Denver's season-ending news conference, where he was joined by Elway, the quarterback-turned-front office executive.

Even 48 hours after the game, that single decision remained the most hotly debated of the many Fox, Manning and the Broncos made in their gaffe-filled loss to the Ravens. The second-guessing only got more intense Sunday after Atlanta moved the ball 41 yards in 12 seconds to set up the game-winning field goal in its 30-28 victory over Seattle.

But, Fox said, Denver's situation was nowhere near what the Falcons faced. The Falcons were losing and had no other choice. They were playing in a dome. The Broncos had just given up a game-tying 70-yard touchdown pass and were standing on the sideline in disbelief. The temperature was below 10 degrees. Manning had thrown the ball downfield a grand total of twice the entire game.

``You watch a (70)-yard bomb go over your head, there's a certain amount of shock value,'' Fox said. ``A little bit like a prize fighter who gets a right cross on the chin at the end of a round, you're looking to get out of the round.''

Elway, of course, built his career around extracting the Broncos from impossible situations. But asked specifically how he would've responded in his playing days if told to take a knee under those circumstances, he sounded not at all like the go-for-broke quarterback he once was.

``I thought it was the right thing at that time,'' Elway said. ``I think with where the team was mentally and the situation we were in, I thought that it was a good move.''

Though the Broncos recovered and stopped Baltimore twice in the overtime, eventually Manning threw an interception that set up the Ravens for the winning field goal. It was a sudden, shocking end to a season that had Super Bowl written all over it. Instead, this year is drawing more comparisons to 1996, when the Broncos also were 13-3, also were top seeds and also lost by three points in the divisional round - to Jacksonville instead of Baltimore.

At the time, Elway was 36 and still searching for his first Super Bowl title. He won the next two.

Currently, Manning is 36 and stuck on one Super Bowl title. He signed with the Broncos last offseason to win a few more.

``I think having been through this before, and having been disappointed before, I realized that this was a possibility,'' Elway said. ``The bottom line is how we learn from this situation. If we get defensive and don't look at everything we did in this game and try to learn from it, then there is a chance we can experience it again. Hopefully, we're back in this situation again and we will have looked at it the right way and learned from the situation.''

While Fox conceded there were coaching mistakes in the game - most notably not having safety Rahim Moore coached up well enough to properly defend the pass that tied the game - he stood by his two most important strategic decisions.

A few minutes before kneeling on the ball, Denver was up by seven and trying to grind out the clock. Despite being down to their third-string running back, 188-pound Ronnie Hillman, the Broncos called three straight running plays, including a run off right guard on third-and-7 that went for no gain. That ran the clock down to 1:15 and made Baltimore burn all its timeouts.

But three plays after a punt, Joe Flacco threw the improbable 70-yard touchdown over Rahim Moore and into the hands of Jacoby Jones that tied the game.

``I've never believed in, `It's one guy, one play,''' Fox said when asked about Moore's role in the loss. ``It obviously was a big play.''

Fox said he played the percentages on all the calls - nothing more, nothing less.

According to his calculations:

-There's a 38 to 40 percent chance of converting a third-and-7 into a first down.

-By punting and giving Baltimore the ball on its 23-yard line, trailing by a touchdown with 1:09 left and no timeouts, the Broncos had a 97 percent chance of winning.

-That percentage spiked to 99.9 percent when the Ravens had the ball on the 30 with 41 seconds left.

Turned out, the Broncos are a ``.1 percenter.''

``I mean this in all sincerity, if I felt like we were going to give up a 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds to go, we might have re-evaluated that,'' Fox said. ``But that's not what the percentages said.''

Notes: Elway said the Broncos intend to pick up the option on Manning for the next two years, which would pay him $40 million for two seasons. Manning still has to pass a physical later this winter to get the money. Elway also said the Broncos would like to bring free agent LT Ryan Clady back. ... By losing, the Broncos coaching staff gets assigned to coach the AFC in the Pro Bowl, the week before the Super Bowl. Manning said he will play in the game, as well.

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Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

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USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Willie Snead has a knack for weaving through a row of linebackers in the middle of the field before making a clutch catch for the Baltimore Ravens.

Such was the case last Sunday against Tennessee, when Snead squeezed between two defenders for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-17 from the Baltimore 15.

"He's on the ground, he makes the catch, he's getting pushed back to the ground, stepped all over, and he just gets up and gives the first-down signal right there in the guy's face," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. He's all ball, all the time."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely chases restricted free agents, but he made an exception with Snead this past offseason after it became apparent that the receiver's three-year run in New Orleans was done. One of Drew Brees' favorite targets in 2015 and 2016, Snead began last season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then fought a hamstring injury and finished with just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

Armed with a two-year, $10.4 million contract, Snead was delighted to arrive in Baltimore last April.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said Tuesday. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

It couldn't have worked out better for Snead -- and the Ravens.

"To see that you were right, to see all that come together and him play so well, being exactly what you thought you were going to get, is very rewarding," Harbaugh said.

Snead was one of three free agent receivers signed by Newsome in an effort to enhance a passing game that sputtered in 2017. Snead is the possession receiver, Michael Crabtree provides an outside threat and John Brown is the speedster.

Snead and Crabtree are tied for the team lead with 30 catches. Brown has 21 receptions for a team-high 424 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't have the physical ability like John Brown to run by you, and I'm not big and strong like Michael Crabtree," Snead observed, "so I have to work harder than everybody else just to stand out."

That's how it's always been for Snead, who finally finds himself in a place where his talent is acknowledged and appreciated.

"This is a guy that's been doubted his whole career -- high school, college and the NFL," Harbaugh said. "So I'm fine if they keep doubting him."

After starring as a quarterback at Muskegon Heights in Michigan, Snead played three years as a receiver at Ball State before going undrafted in 2014. He finally made it to the NFL the following year.

"Coming out of college, (people said) I left too early, I wasn't ready to play in the NFL," Snead recalled. "And in the NFL, it was, `Is he fast enough to separate? Can he make those plays in clutch situations?' I've always been doubted."

Not anymore.

"I'll tell you one thing, Willie comes Sunday ready to play," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's one of the toughest guys I've been around."

This Sunday, the Ravens (4-2) host the Saints (4-1). Snead insists this wasn't one of those games that he circled on the calendar.

"This is another team. I have to approach it that way just to stay focused," Snead said.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton has seen enough of Snead this season to know he's a threat with the ball, and without it.

"He has a tremendous amount of grit. You see him making plays on third down," Payton said. "He's an outstanding blocker. He'll come across in motion, he'll get to the point of attack in the run game, but he'll also find the holes in the zone and man-to-man coverages."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Snead has no problem mixing it up with anyone, large or small, at any spot on the field.

"He can go inside or outside, but man, he makes some -- scouts call them blood area -- catches," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, that's where he thrives."

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 

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