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Elway's latest comeback comes from front office

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Elway's latest comeback comes from front office

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) The craggy lines in his face cut a little deeper. That trademark hitch in his step is a bit more pronounced.

These days, when John Elway scans the field looking to make the perfect move for the Broncos, he is viewing not from under center but from a second-floor office that overlooks the practice field.

At 52, the man who engineered The Drive and so many other great comebacks during a Hall of Fame career is producing yet another one - maybe the most important he's been part of. He is resurrecting Pat Bowlen's franchise, turning it from an out-of-touch, losing laughingstock back into a fan-friendly Super Bowl contender.

Whether the Broncos make it to New Orleans or not this season, Elway has already accomplished the first mission simply by coming back to run Denver's front office.

``The first order of business, in my mind, was to connect back to our fans,'' he told The Associated Press in an interview from his office, a jar of jelly beans on the desk, a magnetic Broncos depth chart hanging on the wall.

On Saturday, the Broncos play Baltimore in the AFC divisional round. They are on an 11-game winning streak and favored to go to the Super Bowl for the first time since Elway hoisted the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the 1998 season.

``Somehow, we lost that connection,'' Elway said. ``At least, it had never been like that since I'd been here. The disconnect was there, you could feel it. The fans didn't feel like they were part of the organization.''

Though it was Denver's magical 1977 ``Orange Crush'' Super Bowl team that sparked Broncomania, it was Elway's arrival six seasons later that turned the relationship between team and fans into a much more personal affair. As the best player coming out of college, Elway was headed to the Baltimore Colts, who held the first pick in the draft. He balked, and the impression was he would end up only where he wanted to go.

The Broncos came up with the goods for a trade and Elway said `yes' to Denver.

Over the next 16 years - including 47 game-saving drives, three Super Bowl losses, countless other heartbreaks and close calls and, then, finally, two titles - No. 7 and the city of Denver became interconnected. Elway chose Denver. Denver loved him back.

As the era of free agency began and the game became more of a business, Elway was a Bronco all the way, one of those increasingly rare instances of a player who spent his entire career with one team.

And after he rode off into the sunset following the second title, things weren't quite the same for the team or the player.

``I wanted to see how it would be when I got away from it for a while,'' Elway said.

He bought car dealerships, got into the restaurant business. He enjoyed success with both, but had trouble staying away from his first love, the game he learned under the guiding hand of his father, Jack, a longtime college head coach before becoming a scout for the Broncos in the 1990s.

``I'm used to having a scoreboard,'' Elway said, ``and there's a scoreboard in football every week.''

He bought a stake in Denver's Arena League team, which gave him some much-needed practice in how to be involved in football without being on the field.

``That was really hard for me the first two or three years, not being able to get my hands on the ball,'' he said.

But there was no more helpless feeling than being a Broncos alum with no way to help. From afar, Elway watched as his old team went on a slow, steady decline - at the low point, a disgrace with a 4-12 record.

Every quarterback that came through the facility dealt with the same theme: He was playing John Elway's old position. But there would never be another Elway. All the quarterbacks, one way or another, proved that mantra correct.

It reached a critical point when the Broncos hired Josh McDaniels as head coach and McDaniels identified himself as the only NFL personnel man who felt Tim Tebow was worth a first-round draft pick.

The 2010 season in Denver was marred by losing and the McDaniels videotaping scandal. But the biggest question hovering over this franchise was why McDaniels drafted Tebow if he didn't want to play him? McDaniels never really answered that one.

And while the Broncos never saw their string of consecutive sellouts, dating to 1970, jeopardized, the number of empty seats at the stadium, the lustiness of the boos from the fans who did attend, and the discontent that grew on the radio shows and internet sites were impossible to ignore.

``Certainly, there was the idea out there that they not only had to restore themselves competitively, but their image needed massive repair work,'' said Sandy Clough, a longtime veteran of Denver sports talk radio.

In stepped Elway, who quickly established a direct line with fans through the team website and a Twitter account.

He also was quick to point out two facts:

-He was smart enough to know what he didn't know

-The only acceptable goal for the Broncos was winning the Super Bowl.

The second part used to go unsaid in Denver but had gotten lost somewhere amid the turmoil.

Shortly after his hiring, on Jan. 5, 2011, a series of dominoes started falling.

Elway hired coach John Fox, who had already shown his penchant for turnarounds in Carolina.

After a 1-4 start in 2011, Fox put Tebow in the lineup and, with a mix of guts, comebacks and luck, Tebow guided the Broncos to the playoffs, albeit with an 8-8 record.

Elway acknowledged how remarkable Tebow's performances were, but steadfastly refused to anoint him as the quarterback of the future.

A surgically repaired Peyton Manning became available and Elway put the Broncos in the mix to sign him. Then he moved Denver to the front by finding an instant connection with the veteran quarterback.

After signing Manning, Elway made the corresponding decision to part with Tebow - a tough decision, but medicine Tebow fans could swallow more easily knowing who it was coming from.

``The revisionist history is that, `Oh, anybody could've done that,''' Clough said. ``I don't agree that anybody could've done that. I think only he could've pulled that off the way he did it. He's the only guy who could've withstood the kind of criticism and wrath ... for deigning to be at all critical of Tebow.''

Elway's deft handling of the Manning-Tebow maneuver has, all by itself, made him a top candidate for executive of the year in the NFL. It has also overshadowed other moves that have played big parts in Denver's quick return to competitiveness. His first move was keeping veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, then a free agent. He also drafted Von Miller, who has 29 1/2 sacks over his first two years.

This season, Elway signed veterans Keith Brooking, Dan Koppen, Trindon Holliday, Brandon Stokley, Jim Leonhard - all important cogs in a 13-3 team.

``He'd been a part of a lot of championship teams, a lot of Super Bowl teams and winners, so he understands what a football player looks like,'' Fox said.

Elway also understands what a city looks like when it loves its football team - and what it looks like when it doesn't.

These days, the love is back, courtesy of No. 7, of course.

``The goal here, with Pat Bowlen, has always been that he wants a Super Bowl champion,'' Elway said. ``What everyone needed to remember is that that's still the goal.''

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The only question in net for the Caps is not who the backup will be, but how much he will play

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The only question in net for the Caps is not who the backup will be, but how much he will play

As excited as fans may be about prospect goalie Ilya Samsonov’s first season in North America, it was Pheonix Copley who entered the preseason as the No. 2 goalie behind Braden Holtby.

After a strong performance in the Capitals’ first preseason game on Sunday in which he turned aside 21 of the 22 shots he faced, Copley is doing his best to cement himself as the Capitals’ backup for the upcoming season.

“He knows the challenge that's in front of him and I thought he was real solid [in Sunday’s game],” head coach Todd Reirden said to reporters Monday.

“A number of big saves early on. We were a little bit slow to get going in the game, so we needed him. We needed him in the beginning of the game. He was there for us and I thought he really sent the message in game one that he's prepared for that opportunity." 

Copley, 26, has only two games of NHL experience in his career. He does not generate the same buzz as a player like Samsonov who is believed to be the team’s starter in net. Add in a rough season for Copley in Hershey in 2017-18 and it has led many to believe there is an open competition for the backup goalie this season.

The reality is, however, that this has always been Copley’s job to lose.

As he tries to make the transition from the KHL to the North American game, getting Samsonov as much playing time as possible in the AHL will be better for his development than sitting him on the bench behind Holtby.

While Copley prepares for the NHL, Holtby will have to adjust as well to having a backup not quite as established as Philipp Grubauer to rely on. The relationship between Holtby and Copley, however, is already a strong one and Holtby is excited for the opportunity this preseason brings for his new backup.

“It’s his first chance to get a few good starts in, and my job's just to be there to support him, make sure we can work through things together,” Holtby told reporters on the first day of camp. “I can learn things from him, he can learn things from me and vice-versa.”

Regardless of how Copley plays in the preseason, however, there is risk involved with pinning such an inexperienced goalie as the team’s backup. Until he gets a few starts at the NHL level playing against NHL competition, we ultimately do not know how good he will be. Until that question is answered, we also do not know how much he will play.

Grubauer played in 35 games last season as Holtby struggled. Regardless of how good the Caps may feel about Copley as the backup, it seems safe to assume the team is not expecting Copley to see quite that much action this season. If they believed he would need to, the team likely would have considered other options.

Holtby, for his part, said he is ready to take on a larger load again as the starter.

“Hopefully I play a few more games or something like that would be nice,” he said, “But whatever it is, we're just trying to make sure that our goalie department is as good as we can be from top to bottom."

Holtby seemed to benefit from the extra rest as he elevated his game in the postseason, but he disputes that. Instead, he said it was the heavy workload of the postseason that helped him settle in.

“I'm not a guy that likes time off,” he said. “Through the playoffs was the best I've felt because I was playing every day. That's just the way I like to do it. I find it easier when I'm playing. I find it really difficult when I'm not. That's just the way I work."

With no Grubauer backing him up and Samsonov still developing, Holtby is likely to get his wish of more games.

But while Copley was a major question mark for the Caps heading into the season, Sunday’s game could go a long way towards assuaging those fears and justifying the confidence the team has put in him to be their No. 2 this season.

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The Redskins’ inconsistency is a consistent issue

The Redskins’ inconsistency is a consistent issue

A home loss to a team that was 4-12 a year ago, 0-1 this year, has a rookie head coach, and is clearly in rebuilding mode is more than just a mark in the “L” column. In the case of the Redskins’ loss to the Colts on Sunday, they also lost an opportunity. 

The Eagles lost Sunday, and the Redskins’ loss cost them a chance to have sole possession of first place in the NFC East. That doesn’t mean much two games into the season, but it would have been a psychological boost for the team and its fans. Instead at 1-1, they are in a three-way tie with the Eagles and Cowboys. 

What’s worse for the Redskins, however, is what is ahead.

They will be decided underdogs at home to a Packers team with an apparently healthy Aaron Rodgers on Sunday. After their ridiculously early bye, they travel to New Orleans, the scene of their worst loss of 2017, a game where they blew a 15-point lead late in the game and lost in overtime. The Saints have been struggling but they will be solid favorites. Then the Panthers come to town and the Redskins have not beaten them since Cam Newton become their quarterback (0-4). 

If coming events follow form, the Redskins will go into their Week 7 game against the Cowboys at 1-4. If they had won Sunday that could have been a much more palatable 2-3. 

But just like it was futile to predict that the Redskins would steamroll the Colts, tread carefully if you want to buy a parlay ticket on Washington going 0-3 between now and the end of Week 6. They have looked good and they have looked bad. It would not surprise me in the least if they came out for the Packers game playing at a very high level. 

The Redskins are not the only inconsistent NFL team. The Ravens and Jets posted impressive Week 1 wins and lost in Week 2. It works both ways. The Falcons couldn’t get anything done in the red zone in their opening loss to the Eagles. Yesterday they were 4-4 there and beat the Panthers. 

Still, the egg they laid at home in concerning. Following an impressive win with a deflating loss isn’t an occasional thing with this team, it’s a pattern.

Since 2015, the team has had two four-game winning streaks, one to close out the 2015 season and one in Weeks 3-6 the following year. Other than those, they have not had a winning streak of longer than two games and they have had just three of those. 

Simple math will tell you that a team will have a tough time making the playoffs if it can’t string together an extended winning streak or at least multiple two-game streaks in a season. 

So, while losing to the Colts isn’t the end of the season for the Redskins, it is an indication that they still are having problems stringing wins together. If they are going to contend for the playoffs, something that needs to happen if they are going to fill FedEx Field and if Jay Gruden is to stay employed, they will need to do better than win one, lose one. 

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