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Big win sets Broncos up for week off in playoffs

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Big win sets Broncos up for week off in playoffs

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) When things weren't clicking at the beginning of the season, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos spent most of their time looking at the film and working out the kinks on the practice field - and very little time focusing on the standings.

The work is paying off, and if they bothered to look at those standings Monday, they would've liked what they saw.

After their runaway win over Baltimore and New England's loss to San Francisco, the Broncos are the No. 2 seed in the AFC and only need victories at home over Cleveland and Kansas City, combined record 7-21, to wrap up a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Eight of the 10 AFC teams to make the Super Bowl under the current playoff format have had a first-round bye.

``I always thought if we kept getting better, there was no way we couldn't be one of the top teams,'' Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. ``It was just a matter of keeping your nose down, not worrying about your record, keep working and everything will take care of itself.''

During their nine-game winning streak - longest since they won the first 13 games of the 1998 Super Bowl season - the Broncos (11-3) have steadily gotten better.

One of the issues was how they would fare against a winning team, the likes of which they faced only twice over the first eight wins of the streak. The trip to Baltimore, against a struggling Ravens team, but still a team that has qualified for the playoffs with a 9-5 record, was considered their biggest litmus test before the playoffs begin.

They passed it and didn't even need Manning at his very best to do so.

The Broncos quarterback threw for 204 yards, his lowest output of the season.

But the Broncos were so good everywhere else - rushing for 163 yards, creating two turnovers and returning one for a touchdown, milking the clock in the fourth quarter with a 9:59 drive - they didn't need Manning to do much more than hand off.

In fact, Manning handed the ball off 45 times Sunday, the most in his career.

``Our goal is to try to get better every week,'' he said. ``I feel like we probably have in some areas. You're still looking to play that perfect 60-minute game, and that's your goal every week.''

After Week 5, a 31-21 loss at New England that dropped Denver to 2-3, nobody was mistaking Manning or the Broncos for perfect.

Still getting used to his new offense and his new teammates, Manning was struggling. He threw a career-high 26 incompletions in a loss to Houston and had the three first-quarter interceptions in a loss to Atlanta.

There were still questions about his arm strength, and others about whether he would get used to playing at full speed again.

Manning brushed off most of the criticism, bristled at some of it and, mostly, kept believing that more time with his teammates would solve many of the problems.

Since Week 6, when the winning streak began, the Broncos have averaged 386 yards a game (sixth in the NFL) and scored 30.4 points (second), while allowing 291 yards (second) and 17.8 points (third).

``I knew we had a really good team,'' receiver Brandon Stokley said. ``A lot of people on the outside wanted to push the panic button. But for us, it was just about improving every week. We were a relatively young team with the system we put in, and just getting better, knowing that good things could happen if we kept working hard, that's what we've done.''

Even with the victory over the Ravens, the question remains: How will the Broncos fare against the league's elite? Their only three losses came to Atlanta (12-2), Houston (12-2) and New England (10-4) and Denver hasn't faced a team of that caliber since.

The fact that the Broncos would face a possible rematch with the Patriots at home could give the Broncos a supposed advantage in a series in which they've lost their three meetings in the John Fox era by a combined score of 117-54.

Two of those games, including last year's 45-10 playoff loss (with Tim Tebow at quarterback), were in New England.

But ask any of the Broncos about the path to the Super Bowl that is clearer than it was two days, to say nothing of nine games, ago and, well, you mainly get the trademark blank stare and the pat answer.

``Right now, I know we can control our own destiny, but if we don't play our best game against Cleveland this week, that will be all for naught,'' coach John Fox said.

Notes: Fox did not list RB Knowshon Moreno on the injury report, though Moreno could be seen on the sideline during the fourth quarter with trainers looking at his back. ... Fox downplayed a tweet from CB Tracy Porter, who has expressed his dissatisfaction about the lack of playing time after losing his job to Chris Harris. ``He just needs to focus on getting better every day,'' Fox said. ``I saw good improvement last week.'' Porter, who has been cleared to play after dealing with health issues, hasn't played since Oct. 7. ... Fox said KR/PR Trindon Holliday would still be the returner even though he has fumbled four times since signing with the Broncos in October. He has also scored two touchdowns.

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Retired Steve Smith Sr. not interested in working out with current players

Retired Steve Smith Sr. not interested in working out with current players

Since announcing his retirement, former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. says numerous players are expressing a desire to train with him this offseason.

It’s understandable why players would want to be mentored by Smith, after his brilliant 16-year career.

But while Smith has the time, he does not have the desire.

“People have been calling me, ‘Hey, wanted to work out…let’s watch some film…I need to work on some releases,”’ Smith said to James Lofton and Brad Hopkins on Sirius XM NFL Radio.

“I had some DBs calling me, ‘Hey, you can give me some line work,’ and all that stuff. When I was at the Super Bowl … I had probably about three or four people text me, saying, ‘Hey, let’s get up,’ and I had some agents call me for their guy to help them work their guy out, get him prepared for the combine.

“And I had to take a step back and I said, ‘You know what? If I do all these things, now I’m getting my mind and body to say I can still play.'

“So I had to text some guys and say, ‘You know what? I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to watch film with you and work out and train with you because that means I’m telling myself and my family I’m about to go play again. And I don’t want to go through that process. I’m done playing.’

“So if I’m training anybody, their last name is Smith, meaning my kids. I’m just going to love on them, and that training is less intense. The goal is so lesser. It’s ‘Hey, let’s make sure we’re drinking water, fluid, and all that stuff.’ Out there, when you’re training for ball, it’s a different animal. So I said, ‘No.’’’

Smith sounds determined not to play anymore. He recently signed with NFL Network as an analyst, and he has not given any mixed signals about his desire to start a new chapter in his life.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said at the “State of the Ravens’’ press conference that if Smith wanted to return, the door was open.

However, Smith seems content to keep that door closed.  

RELATED: THE BEST OF STEVE SMITH SR. TRASH TALK

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Former Ravens RB Trent Richardson arrested on domestic violence charge

Former Ravens RB Trent Richardson arrested on domestic violence charge

Former Alabama Crimson Tide running back Trent Richardson, who was signed by the Ravens in April 2016, was arrested Thursday night in Hoover, Ala. on a domestic violence charge, according to Hoover police.

Richardson, who was drafted by the Browns with No 3 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, joined the Ravens during the 2016 offseason before being waived prior to the start of training camp in August.

According to the report, Richardson was arrested following an incident at the Hyatt Place Hotel and was charged with one count of third-degree domestic violence. 

The argument between Richardson and the women began at a nearby Walmart before the altercation turned physical. 

RELATED: RICHARDSON DISCUSSES FAMILY FREELOADING

"Officers were able to make contact with an adult male and adult female who were involved in a domestic altercation," police said in the official release.

"After interviewing both parties it was determined that the two individuals had been arguing earlier while at the Walmart on John Hawkins Parkway and that the dispute continued after they arrived back at the hotel. At some point the situation turned physical and the female sustained injuries (scratches and bruising) about her face."

Richardson's NFL career has been wrought with disappointment.  He played just 17 games for the Browns — averaging 3.6 yards per carry—  before he was traded to the Colts in 2013. His numbers declined even more, and he was released at the end of the 2014 season. He spent the 2015 offseason with the Raiders, but was released before the beginning of the Regular season.

Richardson's last appearance in a regular season NFL game took place in a December 2014 Colts' victory over the Patriots in which he ran for 11 yards on six carries.

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