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Broncos hoping week off doesn't stop momentum

Broncos hoping week off doesn't stop momentum

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) More than 15 years later, the words ``Jacksonville Jaguars'' still hit like a cold splash of water around Denver, especially during playoff time.

And if you want to bring back bad memories for Peyton Manning or any of his former Colts teammates, ask them about what happened against Pittsburgh in the 2005 playoffs.

In both instances, the Broncos and Manning roared into the AFC playoffs with top seeding, a week of rest after a bye and the so-called honor of being the odds-on favorite to make the Super Bowl.

In both instances, the Broncos and Manning were unceremoniously dumped, at home, by a team that came into the game as a touchdown-plus underdog.

Which brings up a good question this week in Denver: Does the team that comes into the divisional round fresh off the bye week (See, Denver) have an edge over the team that comes in off the high of a victory the week before (See, Baltimore)?

Dating to Denver's upset loss in the 1996 playoffs, the top-seeded AFC team has made the Super Bowl only six of 16 times.

``If you look back, at least in recent history, sometimes it can be an advantage,'' said Broncos coach John Fox, who lost after a bye week when he was with Carolina in 2008. ``But it comes down to, forget about rest, forget about seeds, forget about who you play, when, where. It's going to be who plays best Saturday afternoon.''

On Saturday, Jan. 4, 1997, the Broncos did not play best.

Led by Mark Brunell, Natrone Means and Jimmy Smith, the Jaguars rolled into the playoffs having won six of seven, then traveled to Buffalo for a confidence-building 30-27 win over the Bills.

Jacksonville's impressive performance barely raised an eyebrow in Denver, where talk of John Elway finally getting his Super Bowl ring was in full force. The biggest news of the week came when Woody Paige, a columnist for the Denver Post, famously called Jacksonville the ``Jagwads'' - a slam that quickly turned into a rallying cry inside the Jaguars locker room.

Every bit as important was the way the two teams were playing coming into that game.

Jacksonville had a high-powered offense that was coming into its own.

Denver had wrapped up the AFC West and top seeding throughout the playoffs on Dec. 1 and spent the last three weeks of the regular season deciding whether to rest the starters, play them or find some workable mix.

In their first meaningful game in a month, the Broncos shot out to a quick 12-0 lead. The rest, as any longtime Denver fan will recall it, was a nightmare. Brunell threw for 245 yards and the Jaguars went up 23-12. Elway tried to engineer another of his trademark comebacks but came up short. Jacksonville won 30-27.

``Everything was just so ideal,'' Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said after the loss. ``And to have it slip away - this sets the organization back four years, at least. It's going to be the year 2000 before we can ever recover from this.''

It didn't take that long for the Broncos to rebound; they won the next two Super Bowls. Manning rebounded from his 2005 playoff loss to win the Super Bowl the next season.

But at the time they happened, both losses were as devastating as they were unexpected.

Going into the game against the Steelers on Jan. 15, 2006, Manning was already brandishing a reputation as one of the greats of the game, albeit with a playoff resume still very much in question. Tom Brady had ousted him twice and he had a 3-5 record in the postseason.

The Colts started that season 13-0 and played the last three weeks under similar circumstances as the `96 Broncos - trying to find the formula that would help them stay sharp while not putting their stars at risk.

Manning played one quarter of the 15th game and one series of the last game, which ended when he was sacked and lost a fumble after being hit by Arizona's Chike Okeafor.

Manning returned two weeks later and got sacked five times in a 21-18 loss to the Steelers. That result left the 2005 Broncos with home-field advantage for the AFC title game - the last time Denver has been that far in the playoffs - but the Steelers beat them, as well.

``That brings back bad memories,'' said Brandon Stokley, the Broncos receiver who played with Manning in Indianapolis in 2005. ``We just didn't play a good game. We had the bye. We kind of shut it down toward the end of the season and came out flat and that's what happens.''

Part by plan and part because they had no other choice, the 2012-13 Broncos have not shut down a thing all season.

Because they were busy holding off Baltimore, leapfrogging New England, then pursuing Houston for the top seed in the AFC, the Broncos had to play all their players through the final game of the year before sealing the top spot.

Once they got it, Fox designed the bye-week schedule to keep his team very much engaged. He called for three practices during the week and a mandatory weightlifting session on Saturday, designed as much for the work in the weight room as for what it prevented - namely, players using their days off to hop a flight to Las Vegas or some other focus-detracting locale.

On Saturday, they find out if it was worth it. The Broncos head into the week as a nine-point favorite.

``I like the way we approached it,'' Stokley said. ``We played every game. We played every play. The bye week, we worked hard. I like this mindset. I feel a lot better about it than I did in Indy.''

Notes: Broncos CB Champ Bailey and OL Ryan Clady were named to the USA Football All-Fundamentals team Monday. ... Denver's only other playoff meeting with the Ravens was a 21-3 loss in Baltimore in the wild-card round. The Ravens won the Super Bowl that year. ... Fox on whether the team had confidence in PR/KR Trindon Holliday, who has been prone to fumbling this season and is recovering from an ankle injury: ``He's on our 53-man roster and he's been our starting punt returner and kick returner for some time. So I guess the answer to that would be yes.''

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Five observations from Day 1 of Ravens training camp

Five observations from Day 1 of Ravens training camp

OWINGS MILLS – Here are five observations from Day 1 of Ravens’ training camp:

1. Joe Flacco didn’t look like someone who had not practiced since November.

First of all, there is nothing wrong with Flacco’s arm. Early in drills, he effortlessly floated a long pass to rookie Chris Moore on a ball that traveled at least 55 yards in the air. Secondly, Flacco moved well wearing a brace on his surgically-repaired left knee, moving out of the pocket several times without any sign of favoring the injury. It remains to be seen if Flacco feels discomfort after several days of practice, and of course, he is not taking any hits. But this was a good first step.

“It felt really good to be out there,” Flacco said in quotes provided by the team. “I wasn’t as efficient as I’d like to be, but I felt comfortable. I just need to throw it a little better and complete some more passes.”

2. Veteran tight end Ben Watson didn’t have the greatest practice.

The usually sure-handed Watson dropped two passes early. Maybe Watson was nervous in his first practice with Flacco, or maybe he was adjusting to the pace of Flacco’s throws. But Watson will be looking to bounce back quickly, competing for playing time at tight end with Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, and Maxx Williams.

3. The starter at inside linebacker could be rookie Kamalei Correa.

While Correa is taking reps both outside and inside, the Ravens are searching for a starter at inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley. If Correa wins the starting job, it means the Ravens’ top two picks, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Correa, could be starters from Week 1.

4. Pitta looks like Pitta, running patterns and making catches.

Fans still love Pitta, and he received a huge ovation whenever he made a catch. Pitta’s attempt to come back from his second major hip injury is a feel-good story and people are rooting for him.  However, a major test for Pitta will come Saturday when the Ravens put on pads for the first time.

5. John Urschel could be the starter at left guard, but he is also taking reps at center.

Urschel is the favorite to replace Kelechi Osemele as the starting left guard. However, Urschel’s best position may be center. If anything happens to starting center Jeremy Zuttah, the Ravens could shift Urschel to center and play either Ryan Jensen or rookie Alex Lewis at left guard.

RELATED: STANLEY'S ROOKIE SHOW PERFORMANCE WAS ONE FOR THE AGES

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Ronnie Stanley sings 'Ignition Remix' in chicken suit for his teammates

Ronnie Stanley sings 'Ignition Remix' in chicken suit for his teammates

OWINGS MILLS - When the Ravens drafted left tackle Ronnie Stanley, he never expected to sing in front of teammates wearing a chicken suit.

Welcome to the Ravens, and to the traditional rookie talent contest. Stanley led off this year’s draft class as the first-round pick, and apparently, he was a hit. The chicken suit was courtesy of wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., who purchased it for Stanley.

Where exactly do you find a chicken suit that fits somebody 6-foot-6, 320 pounds? But Smith found one. If you are a smart rookie, you don’t say no to Steve Smith. That left Stanley with no choice but to perform wearing the suit.

Stanley chose the R. Kelly song “Ignition Remix” for his selection.

“I knew it was crowd pleaser,” Stanley said after Thursday’s practice. “I know every word to the song. That was the song I picked, so I was practicing all throughout this break that we had.”

Under the circumstances, Stanley felt he did well.

 “I actually didn’t know about the chicken suit until yesterday,” Stanley said. “I did what I had to do. I knew since I was going first, I had to set the tone. That was the first time I sang in a chicken suit.”

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was impressed.

“He did a great job and we had fun,” Harbaugh said. “It’s nice when your first-round pick, kind of the leader of the rookie class, is able to step up and make a statement about that. I can fit in, so to speak.”

No word on if Stanley plans to go on tour after the season.

RELATED: A FEW RAVENS RUNNING BACKS ARE DINGED UP

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Kenneth Dixon hobbled, Lorenzo Taliaferro placed on PUP list

Kenneth Dixon hobbled, Lorenzo Taliaferro placed on PUP list

OWINGS MILLS -- The Ravens deep running back group grew a little thinner – at least temporarily – on Thursday as rookie Kenneth Dixon left the first training camp practice after tweaking his left knee and Lorenzo Taliaferro was placed on the preseason physically-unable-to-perform list with a lingering foot injury.

Dixon had been very active in the noncontact practice, especially as a pass catcher. But as he caught one pass near the left sideline in an 11-on-11 drill, he was inadvertently bumped out of bounds by linebacker Patrick Onwauasor and fell hard to the ground. Dixon was slow to get up and was ultimately helped off the field by Justin Forsett and a trainer.

Dixon has “a slight thing with the knee,” coach John Harbaugh said after practice. “He should be fine.”

Taliaferro sustained a foot injury last year and had surgery that ultimately ended his season in October.

"Not that there's a big issue with it," Harbaugh said of Taliaferro's foot, "but it's not quite there yet."

Entering his third season, Taliaferro is fighting for a roster spot after missing 16 of 32 games over his first two seasons. Forsett, Buck Allen and Dixon all appear to be locks to make the team, leaving Taliaferro competing for a potential fourth running spot with Terrance West and perhaps Trent Richardson, though he, too, is injured.

Taliaferro joins five other Ravens who had previously been placed on the preseason PUP list – receivers Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman, linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, and Richardson.

Players can be activated from the PUP list and return to practice at any time during training camp. If they begin the regular season on the PUP list, they must sit out the first six games.

In addition to Taliaferro’s absence, three players sat out Thursday's practice because they haven’t passed the conditioning test: wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Jerraud Powers and newly signed wide receiver Dobson Collins.

RELATED: FLACCO ISN'T WORRIED ABOUT INJURIES AFFECTING HIS POST NFL LIFE