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Broncos riding high but have some blemishes, too

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Broncos riding high but have some blemishes, too

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The Denver Broncos are as complete a team as the NFL has to offer, with Peyton Manning's pinpoint passes and Von Miller's sack-strips setting the tone for a squad that hasn't lost in two months.

Still, there are blemishes for these Broncos (10-3), whose quest for that proverbial complete game marches on through maladies - red zone stalls, pass protection pitfalls, coverage blunders - that could derail their dreams.

As coach John Fox said Friday following his team's latest win, a methodical 26-13 beatdown of the Oakland Raiders: ``We still need to get better.''

Even though they've won eight straight, they have a lengthy to-do list.

``Each week, there are little things we can tweak and fix,'' linebacker D.J. Williams said.

To still be searching for that all-around game this time of year is actually a good thing, Manning insists. After all, what good does it do to peak before the playoffs?

``We're still looking for that perfect four-quarter game, 60-minute game. I'm not sure if you want to play it early in the season. I think you hopefully want to find it somewhere in the month of December, maybe going into January,'' Manning said.

The Broncos really haven't been threatened in any game since their 35-point second-half onslaught at San Diego on Oct. 15 that thrust them into this prolonged tear. They nonetheless keep finding enough flaws to prevent them from getting big-headed.

``It's hard for any team to run on all cylinders,'' Fox said. ``Everybody looks for that perfect game. You prepare for that perfect game no matter what phase. Very seldom do you reach that. We still need to get better. Guys have that mindset. We as a staff have that mindset. And we'll see where it takes us.

``I know coming back after this little break we're playing a very good team in Baltimore. So, it'll be a good measuring stick of where we are.''

Even though the Broncos found a ground game to complement their passing prowess - Knowshon Moreno had a career-high 32 carries for 119 yards against the Raiders - there were enough problems popping up to keep the coaching staff busy over the long weekend as they prepare for their biggest game of the season Dec. 16 against the Ravens (9-3).

After scoring a touchdown on their opening drive, the Broncos offense sputtered, turning the ball over at the goal line once and settling for field goals four other times while also scoring a TD on a 2-yard drive following Miller's fifth forced fumble in five weeks.

``Kicking a field goal is not the worst thing ever,'' tight end Jacob Tamme said, ``but there are going to be some times with those drives when we get great field position on offense, we need to score touchdowns.''

Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas bemoaned the Broncos' inability to finish off drives, which is becoming a nasty habit.

``We've got some things to work on,'' Thomas said. ``We've got a great team coming up, and we've got to work on them a lot, because we need touchdowns, not three points.''

The Broncos' final trip into the red zone didn't produce a touchdown, either, but they didn't mind as Manning took three kneel-downs after Moreno carried eight times from midfield to the Raiders 8, forcing Oakland to use all three of its timeouts.

``I was really proud of that last drive,'' Manning said. ``I thought that was really something special. Probably more of a line coach's dream. Probably not exciting for anybody doing fantasy (football).''

The Broncos have been emphasizing a better ground game for December, when weather becomes more of a factor but also because it will keep Manning's play-action effective and his jersey clean.

Moreno has made the most of his promotion from the scout team to the starting lineup these last three weeks following Willis McGahee's knee injury that landed him on IR. The Broncos are averaging more carries (31 to 27) and more yards (109 to 105) and their first downs rushing per game (6.3) are exactly the same as when McGahee was in the lineup.

It doesn't always look pretty, though. Plenty of times, Manning has to tell Moreno where to line up - or even grab him by the jersey and shove him from one side to the other.

``I've got to give him a lot of credit. He's been running the service team, scout team, for the majority of the season. All of a sudden he steps right in, our offense is evolving each week, we're putting new stuff in, changing things and he's virtually had to learn on the run,'' Manning said. ``So, when you're in the no-huddle, you can tell him what to do, he's not sure. I just say, `Knowshon, ask me, make sure we're on the same page.'''

Denver's defense has had its issues, too. The Broncos gave up pass plays of 58 and 56 yards Thursday night, the latter one for a catch-and-run touchdown toss from Carson Palmer to Darrius Heyward-Bey. This after allowing Tampa Bay to score 10 fourth-quarter points to turn a 31-13 lead into a ballgame.

``We'd like to put together four perfect quarters, but we've got some fighters in this room,'' cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``I'm proud of what we've done up to this point but we obviously have to look back and see how much better we can be. When we do that as a group, the sky's the limit for us.''

Players had Friday off after two physical games four days apart. Some came in for treatment like Thomas, who caught five passes for 83 yards despite jamming his right shoulder just before halftime.

``He's being evaluated. It doesn't appear to be anything real serious. Hopefully, he'll be ready Monday when we reconvene,'' Fox said.

The Broncos have their share of thirty-something veterans who can sure use the extra rest, Manning said.

``I think the guys are tired. You use these next three days to get your mental rest, your physical rest and to get recharged,'' he said. ``We've been on a pretty good run. We have some guys pretty beat up and mentally drained, as well.''

Notes: The Broncos' winning streak is the fourth-longest in franchise history. ... Miller is one sack shy of Elvis Dumervil's club single-season record of 17 set in 2009. ... Miller and Dumervil each have forced six fumbles, tying Dennis Smith's club record set in 1989.

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The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sixers Game 5 of the 1986 NBA Playoffs

The Vault: Looking back at Bullets-Sixers Game 5 of the 1986 NBA Playoffs

After a two-week break for paternity leave, it's time to spin the dial, line up the combination numbers and re-open the vault. Earlier in the NBA's hiatus, we looked back at Bullets playoff games from the 1970s and the 1990s. Today, we go to the 1980s and revisit Game 5 of the 1986 first-round playoff series between the Washington Bullets and the Philadelphia 76ers.

Now, this is a game that older Bullets fans likely wouldn't want to relive. The Bullets not only lost the game, they got blown out, and it ended their season.

But it was also an interesting snapshot into an era of the NBA and of Bullets basketball and, in a way, it encapsulated what the Bullets were in the 1980s. They made the playoffs five straight years from 1983 to 1988 and lost in the first round each time. 

In 1986, the Bullets won only 39 games, yet they were the sixth seed. It was an especially bad year in the Eastern Conference, so bad that the Chicago Bulls set an NBA record that still stands as the worst team to ever make the playoffs. They were 30-52.

The Bullets won Game 1 against the Sixers, but fell on the road in Game 5 when basically all of their best players didn't show up. It was a major letdown.

But it was still a basketball time capsule worth looking back on. Here are five takeaways including pictures and GIFs of the best moments...

Bol's network debut

The NBA back then was not even close to what it is now in terms of worldwide reach. It was not far removed from the NBA Finals playing on tape delay and very few games were broadcast nationally. Usually, those national games featured teams like the Lakers and Celtics, not the Washington Bullets.

So this particular game marked the first time Manute Bol played on network television. The Bullets rookie was a person of intrigue because at 7-foot-6, he was the tallest player in NBA history at the time. Remember, this was before Gheorghe Muresan, Shawn Bradley and Yao Ming. 

Bol was also a fascinating player because as a rookie he led the league in blocked shots with a ridiculous average of 5.0 per game. He averaged more blocks than he did points (3.7). 

Bol playing in his network debut was a big part of the broadcast with color commentator Tommy Heinsohn remarking pregame that "when [Bol] first joined the NBA, a lot of people thought it was for freak value." Heinsohn, though, went on to twice compare Bol's rim-protecting prowess to Bill Russell.

Heinsohn also said later in the game the Bullets training staff put the roster through a strength exam and Bol tested at the level of "a child." He was tall, but extremely skinny, listed at just 200 pounds. And his thin frame was a major disadvantage against Sixers superstar Charles Barkley.

Despite being a foot shorter, Barkley absolutely dominated Bol in this game with his strength and low center of gravity.

Bol had zero points, two rebounds and one block in the game.

Bol had a song

To further illustrate the spectacle that Bol's network debut was, CBS aired a music video for him at halftime. It was called 'Bol-tending' and it was the type of video that was for some reason commonplace around sports in the 1980s and 90s.

Custom rap songs about teams and players were all the rage back then and even as a rookie, Bol had one complete with a killer saxophone solo.

The 80s were in full force

The Bol video was just one example of the remarkable 80s-ness of this game and the broadcast. There were so many things that may have been cool at the time that just aren't that cool anymore.

Like, this starting lineup graphic. It looks like a Prince album cover.

There were also a few hairstyles you just never see in today's NBA. There was the let-it-flow male pattern baldness of Gus Williams:

There was also Jeff Ruland's full and glorious mustache, which made him look like a cop who went undercover as an NBA player:

And you had Tom McMillen's moppy gray hair that made him look like a middle school science teacher:

It seems worth noting that Just For Men didn't come out until 1987, the year after this game was played. And this was actually McMillen's final NBA game. He had already announced his retirement and made it known he was going to run for U.S. Congress as soon as his playing career was over. They mentioned it twice on the broadcast.

Imagine a current NBA player's farewell tour including that as his next step. McMillen, who was a Rhodes Scholar before playing in the NBA, would win that election and two more to serve three terms in the House of Representatives hailing from Maryland's 4th District.

Sixers were loaded with stars

The Sixers had one of the most star-studded NBA teams ever assembled in 1985-86, though some of those stars were up there in age and not the players they once were. They had a whopping five Hall of Famers. That included Barkley, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo and Maurice Cheeks. 

Malone and McAdoo didn't play in this game due to injuries, Malone because of a fractured eye socket (ouch). But the other three had their way with the Bullets in Game 5.

Barkely, in particular, was unstoppable. He had a triple-double with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists. And he just jumped off the screen as the best player on the floor.

This was a different era where a lot of the players weren't athletic or skilled enough to hang in today's game. But it is pretty obvious Barkley would still be a star. He was just unbelievably powerful and fast in the open floor.

Dr. J still had it

Erving may have been 35 years old, but he was still one of the best athletes on the court. He made a series of plays that were reminiscent of the ageless wonder we see these days in LeBron James.

Erving had a few vicious dunks that did not look like a guy at the end of his career:

And this one play where he leapt over the press section really stood out:

The NBA has come a long way since the 80s, but Barkley and Dr. J were both before their time. And the Bullets may now be the Wizards, but they are still waiting to break through in the playoffs, even decades later.

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For those thinking the Redskins could go with Kyle Allen over Dwayne Haskins, consider this

For those thinking the Redskins could go with Kyle Allen over Dwayne Haskins, consider this

Kyle Allen's acquisition has led some to wonder if Dwayne Haskins is now in a true fight for the Redskins' starting quarterback job. DeAngelo Hall came out with comments saying as much last week, and his opinion is shared by a few other analysts and some fans, too.

That outcome is certainly on the table, sure, and it moves closer to the center of the table the longer Coronavirus keeps teams away from the facility. If the offseason gets cut short or erased entirely, Allen's familiarity with Scott Turner's offense goes from a very useful trait to something that could be enough for him to take the field in Week 1. 

But as long as there is some semblance of normalcy over the coming months, Haskins should be Washington's starter. You can believe that because Ron Rivera indicated that's how he himself is operating, or you can believe that because, like Chris Cooley, you think Haskins is simply the better QB.

If those two reasons aren't enough, though, consider this: Going with Haskins appears to line up with how Rivera has approached his first free agency and first campaign as the franchise's leader.

Like it or not, Rivera has mostly brought in low-cost players this March. Aside from pursuing and losing out on Amari Cooper, he and the front office seem content with just trying to make this roster more well-rounded and more competitive while the coach looks to establish his way of doing things in 2020.

Of course, Rivera, Kyle Smith and others would love to begin this new era of Redskins football by stringing together nine or 10 victories and making it into January. That said, they're all aware that they're assuming control of a 3-13 team and are at the start of a rebuild that may require a few seasons to really take effect.

In other words, this is the perfect time to let a 2019 first-rounder have a full year under center and in shotgun and allow both he and the organization to figure out if he can be a difference maker in the NFL.

If Haskins struggles, the Redskins should let him try to fight through those struggles. And if he continues to struggle, then they can finally turn to Allen. That scenario will in all likelihood lead to another unsightly record and put Washington in a spot to draft a premium signal caller in 2021. 

However — and this is weirdly a result that doesn't get mentioned enough — it could really pay off and set the Redskins up for major success under Rivera.

One of the top shorcuts to relevancy is having a quality passer on a cheap deal (and Haskins' deal has the potential to be really cheap through 2022). If the Redskins give Haskins 2020, he could give them much more in return.

Sure, if Allen entered this September as the guy, his chemistry with Turner and Rivera could make the Burgundy and Gold's record marginally better in the short term. That said, the Redskins' strategy in free agency doesn't indicate that they're too preoccupied with the short term. 

Overall, Allen is no scrub. In fact, he has produced more than Haskins has as a pro up to this point. Yet for Rivera and Co., what happens next matters far more than what's happened already.

If they're being patient with addressing their roster, they need to be patient with Haskins. They may one day be very thankful that they were.

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