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

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Josh Norman's status for the Redskins in 2019 comes down to dollars and sense

Josh Norman's status for the Redskins in 2019 comes down to dollars and sense

Josh Norman’s former defensive coordinator will not join his former pupil in Washington. What’s left to wonder is whether the cornerback stays with the Redskins for the 2019 season.

On the surface, that premise seems flawed. Why ponder releasing the team's best cornerback especially with several uncertain slots elsewhere on defense including safety? 

Follow the money. 

Norman, 31, is now three years into the five-year, $75 million contract he signed in 2016. His salary ate up huge chunks of the team’s salary cap in each of those three years. 

Norman accounts for a mere $9 million in dead cap space over the final two seasons. That includes six million in 2019, but the number reaches $14.5 million if he remains on the roster. 

For a team with $16.6 million in total salary cap space –24th in the league according to Spotrac – finding ways to free up more room becomes a primary topic this offseason.

What remains at corner should Norman exit explains why he may and likely should stay. 

Quinton Dunbar proved viable in his first season in the starting lineup, though the former wide receiver missed nine games with leg injuries and finished the year on injured reserve. 

Beyond Norman and Dunbar, Washington’s corner depth chart includes four players who enter 2019 with a combined five years of NFL experience. 

Fabian Moreau, a 2017 third-round pick, received valuable playing time in the slot. Moving him outside creates a need inside.

Greg Stroman, one of two seventh-round selections last season, played more than anticipated during his rookie season because of Dunbar’s injuries. 

Same with another rookie, undrafted free agent Danny Johnson. Both showed positive traits, but likely not enough for the coaching staff to believe they could enter the starting lineup Week 1. 

Adonis Alexander, added in last year’s supplemental draft, mostly had a redshirt rookie season. 

Maybe there’s a scenario where the Redskins believe in this unit’s upside and think they could cobble together a viable group with a basic free agent addition joining the mix. That seems like a dicey proposition at the moment.

The real concerns in the secondary exist at safety. Washington may need two new starters. The team released another talkative defensive back, D.J. Swearinger before Week 17. The other starter, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, is a free agent. 

Second-year safety Montae Nicholson went to the bench after the Redskins acquired Clinton-Dix from the Packers during the season. Nicholson’s year ended on the reserve/non-football injury list following his December arrest for assault and battery, and being drunk in public. 

Swearinger’s release added to a lengthy list of projected team needs, including inside linebacker, guard, wide receiver, edge pass rusher and likely quarterback depending on Alex Smith’s recovery. 

Cutting Norman puts cornerback on the list.

Though he has not received Pro Bowl honors since signing with Washington or performed at the high level achieved during his final season with Carolina, Norman delivered a solid 2018 campaign. He believes there’s more he can do on the field particularly rushing the quarterback in select moments. Perhaps a rumored defensive coordinator change unlocks more. 

Whether that coaching switch occurs or not, swapping Norman for salary cap space is among the considerations this off-season. On the surface, such a move causes more uncertainty for a defense already appearing needy in some key spots. 

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Bryce Harper wants Tony Romo to predict his future after AFC championship game

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USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper wants Tony Romo to predict his future after AFC championship game

Bryce Harper has been having a little fun on Twitter lately with his fans, who are still anxiously waiting to hear which MLB team the coveted free agent will sign with this season. 

And the 26-year-old slugger's jokes continued through the AFC championship game between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. 

The Patriots' 37-31 overtime win over the Chiefs was broadcasted on CBS, so former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo was calling the game, along with Jim Nantz. Since Romo joined the broadcast booth for the 2017 season, he's repeatedly proven he can read a defense before a quarterback does and predict a play before it unfolds. 

He did it again during the AFC championship matchup, and fans watching were stunned at his accuracy. And that brings us to Harper, who chimed in with a joke about Romo's spot-on predictions.

So, does this mean Harper knows what his future team is?! Maybe he's growing as tired of the anticipation as fans (especially Nationals fans) are. 

Recently, he's been responding on Twitter to discussions about where he'll end up with shrugging and questioning emojis -- making light of the offseason's biggest mystery. 

After Romo's proven history of being able to predict the future on the NFL side with incredible accuracy, maybe he does know Harper's future too. Here's a look at some of his predictions from the Patriots-Chiefs game, as well as from his first couple seasons in the booth.

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