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Bears, Broncos getting TDs from everywhere

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Bears, Broncos getting TDs from everywhere

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) It's a big boost and a back-breaker rolled into one, the touchdown that comes while the offense is catching its breath on the sideline.

Nobody's been better at that lately than the Chicago Bears and the Denver Broncos.

``Touchdowns can come from anywhere,'' linebacker Von Miller said after the Broncos got TDs on a punt return and an interception last week, making things a whole lot easier for Peyton Manning and a Denver offense that was off its game in a 36-14 blowout win at Carolina.

Trindon Holliday's 76-yard punt return for a score - which came a week after his 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown at Cincinnati - and Tony Carter's 40-yard interception return marked the 10th and 11th TDs from Denver's defense or special teams since 2011.

``I can't tell you what that does for the entire team, especially an offense,'' Manning said. ``It can be deflating for the other side.''

While the Broncos' 11 non-offensive TDs over the last season-and-a-half leads the AFC, their output pales in comparison to the Bears' 18 such scores over the last two seasons, including eight so far this year.

Those electrifying scores have propelled the Bears (7-2) to the top of the NFC North, a game behind Atlanta for the best record in the conference.

``I think with any team, you have a pick-6 or momentum changes on your kickoff return, it's just huge for your team in general,'' Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker said. ``And the offense, it takes some pressure off you.''

Unless they come in bunches like with the Bears, where it actually puts pressure on the offense to keep pace.

Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler said recently that the team needed to get off to better starts but added that with the way his defense is dominating, ``I think we're going to be OK.''

``At the end of the day, it's not the Bears defense making it to the playoffs and the offense not,'' added wide receiver Brandon Marshall. ``You know, we're a team, so whether it's the special teams getting it done that week, or the offense or the defense, we're a team.

``But you have to give respect where it's due: Our defense is playing lights out. They're making it a lot easier for everyone in this building.''

Although a TD on a punt or kickoff return or a fumble recovery, blocked punt or interception can fire up a team, NFL players tend to downplay the source of the score.

``Sometimes the media will divide a team into three different teams,'' Manning said. ``Broncos offense, Broncos defense, Broncos special teams. And you write about them as if they are three separate teams, but it's actually the same team. So, the BRONCOS scored those touchdowns.''

And he'll take them from anyone.

``Anytime anybody on the team wants to score a touchdown, I'm for it,'' Manning said.

Five of the six defensive/return TDs this season by the Broncos (6-3) have come during their four-game winning streak that began with a comeback from a 24-point halftime deficit at San Diego last month.

After the Bears and Broncos, the teams with the most return/defensive touchdowns since 2011 have been the Jets (10), Ravens, Bills and Packers (all with nine). Buffalo and Green Bay have had just two this season after scoring seven non-traditional TDs a year ago.

So far this year, there have been 76 return/defensive touchdowns, according to STATS LLC, putting the league on pace for 106, just shy of the 114 TDs the NFL has averaged over the last three full seasons.

Interestingly, the TD total on kick returns hasn't changed much, although most are coming on punts and not kickoffs, a direct result of a rule change. In an attempt to reduce injuries caused by players sprinting into each other head-on, the NFL moved kickoffs up 5 yards at the start of 2011 to increase the number of touchbacks.

There were just nine kickoff returns for TDs last season - though eight already this season - after there were 23 in 2010. The punt returns for TDs jumped from 13 in 2010 to 20 last year and there have been nine so far this season, according to STATS.

Those numbers would be down a bit had replay officials seen what Denver's dynamic returner did at the goal line the last two weeks, when Holliday casually let the ball flip from his hands and out of bounds rather than spiking it or holding onto it for a keepsake.

The NFL said this week that Holliday's 76-yard punt return against the Panthers should have been ruled a touchback and not a touchdown. TV replays showed the ball coming out of his right hand just before he reached the goal line and then bouncing out of the end zone.

``Actually it happened last week, too, and I thought I was actually in the end zone this time, but they told me I wasn't,'' Holliday said this week of his first two career touchdowns.

So, the Broncos have implemented a new rule with Holliday, a former track star at LSU.

``He's got full instructions from Jeff Rodgers, our special teams coach, to bring the ball all the way back to him,'' Denver coach John Fox said. ``Bring it to the sideline, hand it to your coach.''

It's a nice problem for some teams to have.

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AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman contributed to this report.

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

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Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter:http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Big money John Carlson isn't going anywhere

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USA TODAY Sports

Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Big money John Carlson isn't going anywhere

John Carlson isn't going anywhere.

Carlson wanted to stay in Washington, but he wasn't going to come cheap. The Capitals ponied up the cash, however, and signed their star defenseman to a big-time, big-money deal worth $64 million that will make him a Capital for the next eight years.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir talk about his new contract, the trade that made it happen and take a look ahead to this week's development camp.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

After a week that gave several teams the opportunity to prove themselves in the National League East, the only team that did so was the Miami Marlins.

They aren’t as bad as we thought they were.

As for everyone else, each fan base should be disappointed.

The Atlanta Braves missed a golden opportunity to pull away from both the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead, they actually lost ground to BOTH teams that were playing each other.

Philadelphia did leapfrog the Nationals in the standings, but they continue to leave wins on the table due to their bullpen. This is all while Washington went 4-4 on an eight-game homstand.

And if you’re the Mets, I need to say no more in regards to disappointment. Look out because the Marlins are now on your tail.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 44-32
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: vs. Cincinnati (3), @ St. Louis (3)

It is hard to take a team seriously when they lose two out of three to the Baltimore Orioles in their home park.

Both were in demoralizing ways. First, Sean Newcomb went seven innings allowing only a single run, then two relievers gave up a combined six runs in the ninth. Despite a comeback in the ninth, they wouldn’t eventually fall in the 15th (!) inning.

And yes… we can attest, this sucks…

Second was Julio Teheran allowing four to score before Atlanta even got an at-bat. There was a wistful rally for the rest of the game, but ultimately they came up two runs short.

Missing on a golden opportunity to emerge as the frontrunner in the NL East, the Braves dropped the ball. Once excited for a finalized rotation to be back together, there are still some gaps to fill. The team averaged 6.8 runs this week and managed only two wins.

And still no Robert Acuna Jr.

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 41-34
Last 10: 7-3
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Yankees (3), vs. Washington Nationals (4)

Winning series will get you in the postseason. Taking two-out-of-three over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Nationals gives them four straight series wins.

None of those series victories were bigger than taking two at Nats Park.

In those six games Odùbel Herrera had 12 hits, four home runs, nine RBIs for a .444 average. He is leading the charge for a team that scored 39 runs in only six games.

Their starters are giving them quality outings as well. With each starting pitcher this week having a 1.40 WHIP or lower, there has been no downtick from them. However, all of their losses are attributed to their bullpen, including three blown saves.

On June 18, they optioned their closer Héctor Neris to Triple A after giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. While he did have a 6.00 ERA, and a 9.45 ERA in June, he did get the job done in the final innings of games. On 13 save opportunities this year, he got 10 saves.

They hope Seranthony Domínguez (four saves) can turn around the bullpen as they make a push to the All-Star Game.

Washington Nationals

Record: 41-35
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: @ Tampa Bay Rays (2), @ Philadelphia Phillies (4)

All things considered it wasn’t the worst week for the Nationals. Despite losing a series to Philadelphia and dropping a Gio Gonzalez start to Baltimore, Washington gained a half game on the Braves.

But, you have to demand better on an eight-game homestand. These games may be the ones that could haunt the Nats come late-August and September.

Yet there are a lot of highlights this week.

-Juan Soto retroactively hit a HR on his first-ever MLB at-bat
-The Nats pick up reliever Kelvin Herrera in a career-year
-Despite trailing by four, and a rain delay, the Nats came back

Most importantly though Bryce Harper is out of his funk.

…and the fire is back, which may be the most important headline this week.

New York Mets

Record: 31-44
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: vs. Pirates (3), @ Marlins (3)

Finishing up a 10 game road trip with a 3-7 record, all the Mets needed was a return home.

Wrong, New York followed that up by getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field.

And one of those losses, just one, featured seven Dodger home runs.

Also another of the few productive players for the Mets could be heading to the DL. Centerfielder Brandon Nimmo (.283, 12 HR) took a pitch off of his hand this past weekend.

Miami Marlins

Record: 31-47
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. Diamondbacks (4), vs. Mets (3)

A 3-3 West Coast road trip is not too shabby for the Marlins who are playing .500 ball in the month of June (11-10).

It gave the opportunity for Kyle Barraclough to pick up two more saves, bringing his total up to seven this season. His stellar relief performances will likely garner him the honor as the Marlins’ lone representative in the All-Star Game next month.

He’s pitched 11.2 straight innings of hitless baseball. Barraclough has also not allowed a run since May 8 (19 appearances).

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