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Broncos go from joke to contender in 2 years

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Broncos go from joke to contender in 2 years

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Two short years ago, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen sent out a letter to season ticket holders. ``You deserve more from this franchise,'' he wrote.

Then, he went out and fixed it - first by hiring John Elway, who remembered how things worked when the Broncos were one of the NFL's premier organizations, then by bringing on John Fox as coach and, eventually, Peyton Manning to play quarterback.

On Monday, the day after the Broncos closed out a 13-3 regular season and wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the team distributed a different kind of memo, a five-page list titled ``Denver Broncos 2012 Regular-Season Superlatives'' - quite a fitting symbol for a franchise that has transformed itself from a punch line with a 4-12 record to a Super Bowl favorite in the span of two years.

How to explain a turnaround that came ahead of schedule?

``You look at Pat Bowlen and his career as owner of the Denver Broncos. He's amassed an unbelievable record. That doesn't just fall out of the sky,'' Fox said of his owner, who has brought two Super Bowl and 10 division titles to Denver since he became owner in 1984. ``John coming back to the organization, his background. Just his commitment to being successful, doesn't matter what that was, whether it was football or business. I knew what kind of competitor he was.

``And I've done it before. In Carolina. It was just a good fit and I'm happy it worked out.''

Back with the Broncos and running their front office, Elway signed Fox, citing his positive attitude and the quick-turnaround ability he showed in taking Carolina from 1-15 to the Super Bowl over the course of two years. Elway drafted Von Miller, who finished the season with a franchise-high 18 1/2 sacks. And Elway, of course, signed Manning while also jettisoning Tim Tebow, whose success in Denver created a confusing, emotional mix that might have made it difficult for a less-beloved figure to sort out.

``I don't look so much at who was here, who wasn't here, who gets credit,'' Fox said. ``It's more what that one guy in 53 can bring to the team and bring to winning a world championship.''

Of Denver's 53 guys, Manning, of course, is No. 1. The quarterback is in the hunt for his fifth Most Valuable Player award. Nearly an entire page of the five-page handout from the Broncos is dedicated to listing his achievements this season.

Among them:

-Single-season franchise records for completions (400), yards (4,659), completion percentage (68.6), touchdowns (37) and passer rating (105.8).

-Tied a personal best and set a team record with nine 300-yard games.

-Became first quarterback to make a Pro Bowl after missing the previous year due to injury.

-Led Denver to 11 straight wins by at least seven points, tied for the second-longest streak of all time.

``I had no real expectations for what this year would be like, so I don't know if you can exceed expectations if you never really had any,'' Manning said after Denver wrapped up home-field advantage with a 38-3 win over the Chiefs on Sunday. ``Some things were really kind of wait-and-see for me, but it's been a gratifying regular season and very humbling. I have to admit that.''

Fox is using the bye week to stay sharp, calling for short, crisp practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and a mandatory weightlifting session Saturday, mainly to keep the team ``focused, not concerned with flights to other states and those type of things, especially close states.'' (Think, Nevada.)

Meanwhile, in another telling symbol of a team's success, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will use the bye week to interview for newly vacant head coaching jobs in Arizona and Chicago.

``With team success, you get recognition,'' Fox said. ``Those guys are all professionals. They understand the focus it's going to take for us to get where we want.''

After the weekend, the Broncos will know who their next opponent is - either Cincinnati, Baltimore or Manning's old team, the Indianapolis Colts.

The playoff game is scheduled for Jan. 12 - two years minus one day to the date Fox came to the Broncos, who were a mess at the time, reeling from an embarrassing videotaping scandal, a midseason coaching change, a league-worst defense and the presence of Tebow, who was drafted by a coach who wouldn't put him in the lineup. That coach was Josh McDaniels, now offensive coordinator for the Patriots, whose name still raises hackles in Denver.

In so many ways, however, his departure feels like longer than two years ago.

``It's a lot of people with a commitment to work hard to make it happen,'' Fox said. ``It's a big commitment. Not just a little bit of interest. It's a commitment to being world champions and we've been working on it for two years. We get that opportunity again to get in the tournament and see what happens.''

Notes: Barring a change in the NFL schedule, either the Broncos or Raiders will play a Thanksgiving game at Dallas in 2013, which hosts an AFC team in the traditional holiday contest next year. Denver will also travel to Houston and New England while hosting the Washington Redskins and former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. ... The Broncos outscored opponents 299-138 in the second halves of games this season, the third-highest second-half scoring differential since the 1970 merger. ... Broncos gave up fewest sacks in NFL (21) this season while sharing the league lead in sacks on defense (52). ... Denver finished fourth in total offense and second in total defense, marking fourth time in team history finishing in top five in both categories. ... The team said the 5,000 playoff tickets it put on sale Monday sold out in nine minutes.

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How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

How the Caps turned a sure loss into their first home win in under 90 seconds

WASHINGTON -- Another sloppy defensive performance looked like it would doom the Capitals, but a furious three-goal rally in the second period turned what looked like a sure defeat into a stunning 4-3 victory, their first at home this season, over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday.

Toronto took an early lead off a short-handed goal from Kasperi Kapanen. Jonas Siegenthaler then was slow to react to a streaking Ilya Mikheyev who torched him to put the Leafs up 2-0. Jakub Vrana made it 2-1 late in the first, but Toronto looked like they had this game well in hand.

But the Caps rallied and completely turned things around in a stretch of just 1:18 in the second period. Here's how.

Brilliant skating by Kuznetsov

Kuznetsov passed the puck up to the offensive blue line. A skating Carl Hagelin tapped it to John Carlson who entered the zone, pulled back and handed it off to Kuznetsov who took over.

When Kuznetsov gets the puck there are three Maple Leaf players in front of him. He pumps the legs once and then glides in on net and somehow he is behind all three players and in alone on Michael Hutchinson.

Kuznetsov’s speed virtually never changes during the play. There’s no frantic, choppy acceleration, just a smooth glide that allows him to skate in, wait out Hutchinson and tuck the puck around his outstretched pad all in seemingly one fluid motion.

The forecheck pays off 11 seconds later

T.J. Oshie beat out Morgan Rielly in a footrace for the puck in the offensive zone. He circled in the corner to protect the puck with his body from Rielly. He was able to find Nicklas Backstrom in the high slot and Backstrom snapped the puck in.

In a period of just 11 seconds, the Caps had changed the score from 2-1 Leafs to 3-2 Caps.

The flustered Leafs

Momentum is a real thing. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. That was on display in the second period when the Leafs were on their heels after coughing up two quick goals. Just 18 seconds after Backstrom’s goal, Nicholas SHore was called for interference on Oshie.

Do you know how you get two goals and draw an interference penalty in less than a minute? By keeping possession of the puck. Toronto could not get its hands on it at all until Cocy Ceci did on the penalty kill...and promptly threw the puck into the crowd on an attempted clearance from the defensive zone resulting in a delay of game penalty.

A 5-on-3

Ceci’s penalty came just nine seconds after Shore was booked resulting in a two-man advantage for 1:51. The Caps were too hot at that point to not convert. The power play moved the puck very effectively and, critically, managed to retain possession after every shot. The Leafs just could not get there in time to clear it allowing the Caps to take their time, set things up and attack.

The power play shifted with Carlson making his way over to the Ovechkin spot. Ovechkin was fed the puck at the point, faked the slap shot and instead tapped the pass over to Carlson. Carlson did his best Ovechkin impression and fired the one-timer past Hutchinson. That goal made the score 4-2 and capped off an incredible 1:18 stretch in which the Caps turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead, thus ultimately snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Toronto would score a late goal in a comeback attempt but ultimately fell short.

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Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

Capitals score three goals in 90 seconds to take the lead over Toronto

The beginning of Wednesday's clash with the Maple Leafs was not pretty for the Capitals.

A pair of goals by Toronto gave them an early lead midway through the first period. But a snipe by Jakub Vrana towards the end of the first frame cut the deficit in half entering the first intermission.

But during the second period, all of a sudden, a switch flipped for the Capitals attack. Washington found the back of the net three times in under 90 seconds, turning a one-goal deficit into a two-goal lead.

The first came from Evgeny Kuznetsov, who finished with a beautiful move to sneak the puck past Maple Leafs' goalie Michael Hutchinson's glove.

Just 11 seconds later, Nicklas Backstrom found the back of the net on a beautiful wrister from T.J. Oshie to put the Capitals ahead.

To complete the trifecta, John Carlson's one-timer from Alex Ovechkin went right in between Hutchinson's legs, giving the Capitals a 4-2 lead. 

At the end of the second period, the Capitals hold the same 4-2 lead. Just 20 minutes separate the Capitals from their fourth victory of the season.

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