Nationals

Fourth quarter belongs to Broncos in a big way

Fourth quarter belongs to Broncos in a big way

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Some teams like to say the fourth quarter is theirs. The Denver Broncos are taking it to a different level.

With Peyton Manning putting a new spin on the art of the comeback almost every week and the Denver defense doing its part to keep him in every game, the Broncos have outscored their opponents 79-6 in the fourth quarter this season.

The 73-point differential is 37 points better than the next best team, the New York Giants, and is the second-highest total through six games in the Super Bowl era. Only the 1980 Detroit Lions, who finished 9-7, had a better differential at this point in the season, according to STATS LLC. The `80 Lions outscored teams 84-10.

Or course, some of Denver's strong finishes have come out of necessity - make that, desperation - because of slow starts that have also become a trademark of this team early in the year. The Broncos have been outscored 98-42 in the first half. The slow starts have caused handwringing, while the fast finishes have kept Denver (3-3) competitive and, at times, triggered huge sighs of relief.

``We're 3-3,'' said Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil. ``If we were sitting at 5-1, it'd be something where we'd say, `OK, that's great.' But we just know the second half, we've been in situations where we've had to rally and try to come back. For that to happen, we've had to shut some points down. Now, we just have to figure out how to make that happen in the first half.''

If they do, watch out.

The defense has allowed only six points, one measly touchdown, in the fourth quarter. That came in the season opener, when Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger connected with Mike Wallace for a 3-yard touchdown pass.

If Denver holds New Orleans (2-4) without a point in the fourth quarter Sunday, it will match the franchise record - six straight games without allowing a fourth-quarter point. The record is held by the 1977 defense - the vaunted ``Orange Crush'' that took the franchise to its first Super Bowl. Led by Randy Gradishar, Tom Jackson and Louis Wright, the `77 Broncos didn't allow a point over their final six regular-season games.

That year's team was built on defense; it allowed more than 14 points only once all season.

This year, the dominance can be explained in different ways, depending on the game.

``Atlanta, they're trying to play keep away at the end and we're forcing three-and-outs and getting the ball back and making a rally,'' defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said. ``Oakland's trying to get production so they can feel good about things. Pittsburgh, Big Ben has the ball in his hands and we had to make stops to close the game. Every game's different. I don't think you can summarize it in one sentence.''

One thing that has been constant, Del Rio said: ``The heightened awareness in the fourth quarter has been there no matter what.''

In their last game, the Broncos outscored San Diego 21-0 in the fourth quarter to cap off a comeback from 24-0 down for a 35-24 win. Chris Harris closed the victory with a 46-yard interception return for a score, meaning Harris himself has actually scored as many fourth-quarter points as the entire defense has allowed this year.

``It's definitely what we're trying to do, trying to eliminate points in crunch time,'' he said. ``We're trying to be our best in the fourth quarter and the same intensity and urgency we bring in the fourth, we need to bring that in the first half.''

For the most part, Manning and the offense have been getting the brunt of the blame for the poor first halves.

``Quarterbacks are more fun to talk about. It's sexier,'' Del Rio explained.

In some games, the offense has committed turnovers to stall drives. In others, it has settled for field goals.

``You have to be careful of over-analyzing it and, then, all of a sudden, changing what you're doing,'' Manning said. ``Because I think we all are close.''

Manning's fourth-quarter passer rating is 118.4, best in the AFC. He has thrown for six touchdowns and no interceptions and 503 yards over the final 15 minutes of games. That's helped Denver get close in the three games it has lost and pull away in the three games it has won.

No easy way to explain it? Or maybe there is.

``I think it's just guys with heart,'' Dumervil said. ``Just fighting, not quitting and trying to will it through to the end. We're a team that you know is going to fight hard to the end.''

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Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

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USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.

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Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

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USA TODAY Sports

Jay Gruden wants excellent play from Alex Smith, but he also expects personal responsibility

As June minicamp concluded, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden pulled no punches when asked about expectations for new quarterback Alex Smith. 

"He has got to get it down by the first game," Gruden said of Smith. 

While that might not sound overly demanding, remember this is Smith's first season in Washington. The QB will be playing with new teammates and implementing new terminology. 

Still, Smith is a veteran with a lot of experience, and frankly, it seems like Gruden isn't worried about a transition period. 

"We are not in here to build the team around him, the team is built and he has to lead it like right now," the coach said. "This isn’t a two- or three-year process. This is a one-year process and we have got to win right away."

Gruden made things quite clear. He expects the best from Smith, yesterday. 

Those comments created headlines, but there was something else the coach said about his passer that also stood out. Asked about Smith's veteran presence, Gruden talked about what the quarterback might mean for his teammates. 

"The whole job a quarterback has is obviously getting the most out of the people around you. That’s what I think he does as good as anybody," Gruden said. "He’ll get the most out of the tight ends. He’ll get the most out of the backs."

The coach continued, and things got a bit more interesting.

"He’ll get the most out of the receivers and offensive line because they’re going to want to play for him and they’re going to feel confident that he’s going to make something happen in a positive way or at least give it everything he’s got and take responsibility if something doesn’t work out."

Redskins fans are often a weirdly divided bunch. Many liked former QB Kirk Cousins but plenty did not think he was worth the type of money he was paid the last two seasons. Along the way, some fans will read Gruden's comments about making something happen and taking responsibility as a jab at Cousins. That's probably wrong. 

Remember, Trent Williams played through a serious knee injury last season. Asked why, Williams said he wanted to be out there to protect Cousins. Guys played for Cousins. 

The responsibility comment might mean something else, though. Their was a rather hostile back-and-forth last season between Gruden and Cousins last season, when the QB and coach disagreed about taking more risks with the football. A quick reminder of the scene: Cousins told a reporter that he would throw 20 interceptions if he played like Gruden wanted. The coach responded that while the interceptions might pile up, the QB would also throw 60 touchdowns. (Relive it here)

Throughout his career, Smith has thrown less interceptions than Cousins. But that doesn't mean Smith doesn't take risks or put his receivers in position to make plays. 

It's entirely possible Gruden simply expects Smith, a veteran, to be a responsible player and leader. And it's likely that comment had nothing to do with the Redskins previous quarterbacks. 

The bottom line is that Smith better be ready to go Week 1, and his coach made that clear. And if Smith isn't, Gruden expects his quarterback to take responsibility. 

MORE REDSKINS NEWS:

— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap

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