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QB Peyton Manning has hit his stride in Denver

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QB Peyton Manning has hit his stride in Denver

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Turns out reports of Peyton Manning's demise were ridiculously premature.

Denver's quarterback has been outstanding by every measure since throwing three interceptions in the first quarter at Atlanta a month ago. His trio of wobblers that night left critics questioning his stability, strength and stamina after spending all of last season on the sideline.

His latest Monday night performance went much better as he engineered the biggest comeback of his career in the Broncos' 35-24 win at San Diego and tied Dan Marino for first place with his 47th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.

``These comeback victories are great,'' Manning said, ``but all it means is that you screwed up in the first half.''

For once, they were able to overcome their first-half foibles as Manning vaulted the Broncos (3-3) into a first-place tie with the Chargers atop the AFC West after a treacherous early-season schedule that lightens up considerably after their bye this week.

Even with four neck operations to match his four MVP trophies, the quarterback is on pace at age 36 to throw for more yards than he ever did in Indianapolis. If he keeps this up, he'll also post the second-best marks of his career in attempts, completions, completion percentage, touchdowns and QB rating along with his second-fewest interceptions in a season.

At this rate, he would also set franchise records for yards passing, completions, completion percentage and TD passes.

He's also the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 300 yards and three TDs while completing at least 70 percent of his passes in three straight games.

Any more questions about his health or his hardiness?

``Everyone talked about him a couple weeks ago, but he's been the least of my worries,'' coach John Fox said. ``I think he's just going to get better and better.''

Consider this: Since matching the worst quarter, interception-wise, of his career against the Falcons in Week 2, Manning has thrown for 1,519 yards with 11 touchdowns and just one interception in 195 passes - and that pickoff wasn't even his fault. Matthew Willis didn't recognize the overload on his side and failed to adjust his route accordingly Monday night, allowing Quentin Jammer to step up for an easy pick-six.

So, how much better can Manning possibly get?

``I think maybe the word is not so much `better,' but `more comfortable,''' Fox said Tuesday. ``Everybody's adjusting, and they're doing a good job, and they're working hard to get there in a hurry. ... There's always something you can improve on. You never think you've arrived, so we still have a lot of work to do.''

Like figuring out how to quit digging themselves into such big holes.

The Broncos have found themselves trailing by 20 points to the Falcons and Texans, and by 24 to the Patriots and Chargers.

``Well, if it was just one habit, it would be easy to break,'' Fox said. ``But we've kind of spread those habits around. And I'm not being flippant about it, we've got to get that cleaned up.''

On Monday night, ``we found a new way to self-destruct,'' Fox said, pointing to two special teams fumbles.

They also found new ways to come back, with three TD tosses from Manning and two defensive touchdowns as they erased the Chargers' 24-0 halftime lead. That tied their biggest comeback in franchise history and left the AFC with just two winning teams - Baltimore and Houston - and both of them have their share of issues and injuries.

The Broncos' losses have come to teams with a combined 14-4 record, but the remainder of their schedule has a composite 18-32 record and features just one winning team - the Ravens, who lost anchor Ray Lewis to a torn triceps Sunday.

For all their slow starts, the Broncos have outscored their opponents 79-6 in the fourth quarter, an indication they believe they're never out of it with Manning on their side. For once, though, they have an actual comeback to celebrate and not just a moral victory to ponder.

They're hoping it can catapult them to better days in the weeks and months ahead.

``It's hard to have a lot of confidence and belief when nothing good happens,'' Fox said. ``It takes something like last night, something good happening, to kind of build on.''

The Broncos became the first team in nearly a quarter-century to win after falling behind 24-0. Denver's defense forced Philip Rivers into a career-high six turnovers, including ones that Tony Carter and Chris Harris returned for touchdowns.

It was a 180-degree difference from the first half when the Broncos gave up 17 points off turnovers.

``Once again we had those self-inflicted wounds that put us in a hole,'' Manning said. ``But we have shown the ability to come back, and offense and defense really did it together there in the second half.''

Manning made adjustments after his three-interception first quarter at Atlanta on Sept. 17.

His teammates were slower to come around, collecting more fumbles, stumbles and tumbles - like Eric Decker tripping over his own feet on his way to what would have been an 85-yard TD Monday night just before Jammer's 80-yard interception return for a touchdown.

Those are the things the Broncos know they'll have to clean up to make a playoff run.

Manning, for one, would love to spend the fourth quarter watching Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller tee off on the other quarterback.

``We feel fortunate to be tied in our division with 3-3,'' Manning said. ``It's going to be a competitive division later on down the stretch. There are some things we need to get better at. We need to use this week to improve and still find a way to play a 60-minute game.''

Notes: Dumervil was the first Bronco to have two sacks and two forced fumbles in a game since John Lynch in `06. ... LB D.J. Williams returned to Dove Valley on Tuesday after serving his six-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance enhancing substances. He still has to sit out three more games for his second alcohol-related driving conviction but is allowed to be at team headquarters in the meantime. He's eligible to return to practice on Nov. 12.

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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After breakout 2017 season, Ravens running back Alex Collins isn't getting too comfortable

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After breakout 2017 season, Ravens running back Alex Collins isn't getting too comfortable

This time last year, running back Alex Collins wasn't a part of the Baltimore Ravens.

After being released by the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the 2017 preseason, the Ravens placed the 23-year-old on their practice squad, and by Week 2, Collins was already making plays.

As the season progressed, Collins found himself as the Ravens' top running back. He finished 2017 as the team's leading rusher with 973 yards while Javorius "Buck" Allen followed behind him with 591 yards.

If the 2018 NFL season began today, Collins would likely be the Ravens' starter, which is quite ironic considering the fate of his 2017 preseason.

"I always go back to where I started and where I am now, and I use that as my motivation," Collins said after Thursday's training camp practice.

"No matter the day, no matter how tired I am, I think to myself, at this time last year, I didn’t know my position, where I was, where I’d end up. So just having that security behind it is definitely my motivation to keep it this way and keep pushing forward and keep trying to get better instead of being complacent.”

Over the course of 15 games, Collins proved he had the strength and speed to make an impact on the team after Danny Woodhead suffered a hamstring injury on the first drive of the Ravens' Week 1 game and Kenneth Dixon sat out the entire season with a torn meniscus. 

While job security is something we all strive for, Collins isn't getting too comfortable with the hierarchy. 

“I don’t want to say necessarily ‘comfortable,’ because when I use that word, it makes me feel like I’m too relaxed and lackadaisical," Collins said.

"I’m more focused. I don’t want to get comfortable. I don’t want the team or our group to get comfortable, because we just want to get better every day. So, in the position I am, it’s a great feeling, but I’m always pushing myself to be better.”

While Collins has set personal goals for himself – like a 1,000-yard season – he is equally as focused on making the Ravens backfield one of the best groups in the National Football League. 

“I expect that," Collins said on being the Ravens' starter.

"I would hope that all the other running backs expect [to be the starter] as well, and that’s what kind of drives our group – when we all know that we have that capability to be the No. 1 guy, and we’re out competing and push each other and try to be the best. No matter who’s out there during the game, you’ll see a productive play out of that person. So, I have that mindset. I want to be the guy. I have that fire in me, and I hope [that is] as well as the other running backs, as I encouraged them as well.”

Collins noted that he's coming into training camp a bit heavier. He added five pounds to his 200-pound frame "just to see how that feels," but is still maintaining the stamina and strength he's always had. 

Collins – who was one of several veterans released from practice early as the team begins to adjust their way into the extended preseason – finished his media availability with a friendly warning to fantasy football owners: "Draft me now before it’s too late, guys."

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Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

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USA TODAY Sports

Joe Flacco receives high praise from teammates after first training camp practice

Ravens football is back and so is Joe Cool.

The team’s first training camp practice took place Thursday afternoon, and Joe Flacco’s teammates – from offensive to defensive players – mentioned how laser focused the 10-year veteran is.

"Joe always has a lot of personality,” running back Alex Collins said via SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown.

“He is a good guy. He’s a real funny guy, but definitely coming into this year, he has a lot of fire behind him. And it does a lot motivating us especially early when we first reported back. Just seeing him work hard and just seeing him get better every day. He’s definitely got a lot of fire behind him this year.”

Flacco is entering the final year of his contract with a lot on the line following a disappointing start to the 2017 season. But a huge factor that is different for the 33-year old coming into this preseason opposed to last is his health.

“Most definitely,” Collins said on whether he can tell if Flacco is healthier this year. “He’s a lot faster as well, by the way, guys.”

And when it comes to the “Is Joe Flacco elite” debate, linebacker C.J. Mosley knows the consensus within the Under Armour Performance Center.

“I think every year [Joe Flacco] comes in with his mindset that he wants to be great,” Mosley said.

“Mainly because everybody outside of this building does not think he is elite and inside the building, everybody does think that way. Since Joe has been here, you know he is one of those players that never gets rattled. You never see his emotions too high, too low. He’s been our quarterback that kinda stays in the middle to make sure everything goes smooth. That’s kinda how he has been this offseason too. He’s come in looking strong, body looking good.”

Flacco’s health is up to speed as well as his mentality. Flacco organized private workouts with his wide receivers and tight ends at a local park across from the Ravens’ facility last week. This is the first time he has done so since 2011. When asked if he initiated the session, Michael Crabtree gave all the credit to his new quarterback.

“No, that’s all Flac [Flacco], man,” Crabtree said. “That’s the leader. We’re just the wideouts. [We] do whatever he says. If we’ve got something we bring to the table, then we make it work.”

 

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