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Playoffs loom, Manning still looking to improve

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Playoffs loom, Manning still looking to improve

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Here's one that won't come as a surprise: Peyton Manning writes down his New Year's resolutions on index cards.

``My dad, since I was a kid, he's been telling us, `Write them down,''' Manning said.

Though he refused to divulge what's on those cards, or what his lifetime success rate has been with those resolutions, he hasn't left much doubt about what his day-to-day goals on the football field were for 2012, the year of his comeback.

Work hard. Improve. Keep building chemistry.

Those are the only ways to get to the ultimate goal - winning the Super Bowl, which is something Manning and the Denver Broncos are now favored to do.

Yet to hear Manning tell it, even if the Broncos do win it all, there will still be room for improvement - quite a tall task for a quarterback who compiled some of the best numbers of his career and a team that finished tied for the league's best record at 13-3.

``I'm not sure you can do it all in one season,'' Manning said Wednesday, after the Broncos, the AFC's top-seeded team, practiced for the first time during their bye week. ``I think we've done a good job of being the best that we possibly can in this short period of time.''

What began as a season of mystery for Manning - How would his body react after missing more than a year with the neck injury? How would his new teammates respond to him? - has turned into one of his very best campaigns.

He threw 400 completions for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns, completed 68.6 percent of his passes and finished with a 105.8 passer rating - all franchise records and ranked second best of the 14 years he's played in the NFL.

He is in the mix for his fifth Most Valuable Player award, votes for which are being counted this week. On Wednesday, he received his second AFC offensive player of the week honor this year. It marked the 23rd time he's received that over his career, tied with Tom Brady for most ever.

``To be able to come out and participate like he's done, to be one of the top quarterbacks in the league, it's unbelievable,'' receiver Demaryius Thomas said. ``He had an injury that not many people come back from.''

His latest award came on the strength of a 23-for-29, 304-yard, three-touchdown game against Kansas City on Sunday. The highlights were his touchdowns to Eric Decker and Thomas, who stretched out (in Decker's case) or up (in Thomas' case) to make one-handed grabs on balls Manning put in places where only they, and not the defensive backs covering them, could catch them.

Were they passes he would've thrown to those receivers in Week 1?

``Probably would have thrown them earlier, not sure if we would've completed them,'' Manning said. ``It's hard to say. But there's no question, it would be just downright disappointing if we had not improved throughout the season.''

Manning, however, doesn't judge improvement simply on completions or any other numbers on the stat sheet.

It's a much more intangible thing to him.

Take the touchdowns against Kansas City. Manning said neither he nor the receivers had seen the kind of coverage the Chiefs were in on those plays until Sunday, the last week of the NFL season. The next time they see it, though, they'll have a readymade reference point.

``So if you play together long enough, then you can say, `Hey, remember Kansas City in 2012? Remember that? Oh, yeah,''' Manning said. ``I'm not going to have that much eligibility to be able to refer back too long, but those guys certainly will. It's been kind of like cramming for a test and I think both of those guys have put in the time to cram and we've really worked hard in the short time we've had together.''

In fact, it's the chemistry he's built with Thomas, Decker and the rest of the receivers that Manning lists as one of his most pleasant surprises this season.

``The rapport with the receivers has come probably quicker than I thought,'' he said. ``I really didn't know on some of the timing routes, some of the adjustments and things.''

It's not to say flaws don't exist, but ``I don't think it makes any sense to reveal those things with a game coming up.''

Indeed, it's now time to make the best of the hand they've got.

In Denver's case, it's a pretty good hand.

``There are still things that I wish would be better and I think you kind of have to pick and choose your battles,'' Manning said. ``It's, `Hey, we've only had 16 games together, we're not going to be able to fix that. But let's try to get really good at this. Let's be as good as we can at that.' Some things just take time.''

Notes: Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will have three interviews this weekend for vacant head-coaching positions - with Arizona, Buffalo and Chicago. The interviews will take place in Denver. ... Executive vice president of football operations John Elway denied the Chargers an opportunity to interview player personnel director Matt Russell for its vacant GM position. ... Though he wasn't required to give an injury report, Broncos coach John Fox said KR Trindon Holliday (ankle) was making progress. ``I think Trindon will be able to go next Saturday,'' Fox said. ... The Broncos are 0-1 vs. Baltimore in the postseason and 0-2 vs. Indianapolis, though both those games came when Manning was with the Colts. The Broncos and Bengals have never met in the playoffs.

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'He's a heart-and-soul guy:' Capitals begin to process Oshie injury after Game 4 loss

'He's a heart-and-soul guy:' Capitals begin to process Oshie injury after Game 4 loss

RALEIGH — T.J. Oshie shuffled out of the Capitals locker room, hunched over, half dressed, his face a mask of anguish and pain, his right arm pinned against his body. 

He made it to the X-ray room at PNC Arena on his own, two medical staffers at his side, moaning as he entered to learn his fate. Moments later, his teammates came off the ice at that same spot, 2-1 losers to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 4 of a Stanley Cup playoffs first-round series. 

Players clomped past in various states of frustration and distress. Nicklas Backstrom smashed his stick against a wall and, when it only half broke, finished it off with one last theatrical whack. 

It was a perfect summation of Washington’s visit to Raleigh, where it arrived with a 2-0 series lead and left tied 2-2 with a critical Game 5 back home at Capital One Arena on Saturday. 

Oshie will not be with them. He will be out “for quite some time,” said Capitals coach Todd Reirden. Carolina forward Warren Foegele nudged Oshie from behind as both skated near full speed and he crashed hard into the boards in Washington’s offensive zone. 

Oshie yelled out in pain and lay on the ice for several minutes. He was helped off the ice and Foegele received a two-minute penalty for boarding. That did not sit well with Oshie’s teammates, who failed to score on the power play. They thought the play deserved more – a major penalty, for sure, and supplemental discipline by the NHL Department of Player Safety. They didn’t get the five minutes. They might get a suspension when the league looks at the play.   

“It was a defenseless player that was quite a distance from the boards,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said. “It’s an extremely dangerous play and (Oshie) will not be with our team for a while.”

Added captain Alex Ovechkin: "Did you see that? What did you think? I was on the ice, I watched the puck, so I didn't see what happened there, but if you think it's not a dirty play, you have to watch it again."

The frustration was understandable. Oshie had 25 goals in 69 games this season. He missed 11 with a concussion in November before returning. On Thursday, he’d moved up to the top line with Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and he’s been a staple on the second line much of the season. He is as skilled a player as there is on the Capitals and has a goal and an assist in the series. 

“It’s always tough. He plays the game so hard,” goalie Braden Holtby said. “He’s a heart-and-soul guy. I have no idea what it is or whatever. But the thing with [Oshie] is no matter what he’s going to find a way to have a positive impact on our team - whether in or out. It doesn’t matter. He’s a leader and he’s a guy that guys want to fight for.”

Carolina didn’t agree with the Capitals, of course. Foegele called it “an unfortunate play” where he was just trying to lift Oshie’s stick and he lost an edge and careened into the boards. It doesn’t matter now. With the series now even, Washington will have to build on a much better game than it played Monday night in a 5-0 loss, but without one of its best players. On Friday they can begin figuring that out. On the plane ride home Thursday night they were still trying to process what happened to Oshie. 

“We have all those meetings. GMs make meetings with referees and watch the video and it's two minutes?” Ovechkin said. “We're players and we have to go out there and play, but those guys have to make a decision. They can't be afraid. If the guy hurt, it's a dirty play, it has to be not two minutes. It has to be different call."

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'He barely hit him': Rod Brind'Amour finds a way to downplay T.J. Oshie injury

'He barely hit him': Rod Brind'Amour finds a way to downplay T.J. Oshie injury

The Capitals were incensed by Warren Foegele’s shove to the back of T.J. Oshie in Game 4 on Thursday that sent Oshie dangerously into the boards and knocked him out of the game. Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour, however, does not know what all the fuss is about.

“You see a lot of hits that are way, way worse than that,” Brind’Amour told the media after the game.

Oshie entered into the offensive zone with the puck and Foegele came in on the backcheck. Oshie had a good position on the puck, blocking Foegele out with his back. Foegele responded with a cross-check to the back of Oshie that knocked him over face-first awkwardly into the boards. Oshie appeared to strike the boards with his right shoulder and was doubled over in obvious pain as he slowly made his way off the ice.

Ovechkin was so angry that he followed Foegele and continued yelling at him after he went into the penalty box.

But Brind’Amour did not see it as a dirty play.

“I think [Oshie] just went in awkward,” Brind’Amour said. “I don't know the extent of the injury or whatever. Barely hit him I thought, really. He gave him a little shove, but it certainly wasn't what we've been seeing out here.”

In fact, Brind’Amour did not think a penalty was going to be called at all until Oshie stayed on the ice.

“There wasn't a penalty being called and then obviously he crashed into the boards hard and that's when the arm went up because he stayed down,” Brind’Amour said. “You don't like to see that, but I think more than anything he just was not ready for the hit.”

For those of you keeping track at home, Brind’Amour took issue with two consenting players fighting one another, but a cross-check to the back leaves a guy doubled over in pain and, well, he just was not ready for the hit.

Right.

Of course, you can file this away under, “What is he supposed to say?” It’s not as if Brind’Amour would come out and bury his own player for an illegal hit. He is going to defend his guy. Having said that, there were probably better ways to handle the injury of an opposing player rather than diminishing it quite as much as Brind’Amour seemed to.

“We've got way more injuries than they do,” Brind’Amour said. “I don't worry about their team.”

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