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Siemian solidifies QB job in Denver’s 17-9 win over Rams

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DENVER (AP) Trevor Siemian thinks he’s done enough to win the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback job.

If he feels the same way, coach Gary Kubiak isn’t saying just yet.

“I’m going to make a decision this week … but I’ve got a lot of things going on, so I’ll take my time, do it the right way,” Kubiak said after watching Siemian throw his first TD pass of the preseason in Denver’s 17-9 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

Siemian was more impressive than his stat line – 10 of 17 for 122 yards, one TD and one arguable interception – showing off his strong right arm and just the kind of patience, poise and precision required of Peyton Manning’s successor as Denver defends its Super Bowl title.

“I feel confident,” Siemian said when asked if this was his job. “Ultimately, that’s up to Kubes.”

Asked if he felt he’d done enough, Siemian said, “I do, but again, that’s not my call.”

Aside from his 1-yard TD strike to Virgil Green, he had a beautiful pass to Demaryius Thomas streaking down the Rams sideline for a 43-yard gain that set up the go-ahead score.

“I’m impressed,” Kubiak said. “I think he’s very calm. I can tell by the way he handles the team in the huddle, he’s got control of what’s going on. What I see is I see a guy getting better every time out.”

Rookie Paxton Lynch was also more impressive than his stats – 6 of 13 for 57 yards – leading a scoring drive that ended with Ronnie Hillman‘s 7-yard TD run.

That left Mark Sanchez as the odd man out on this night and, possibly, come cut-down day.

If he’s not on the 53-man roster, the Broncos will save $3.5 million and the seventh-round draft pick they would have owed the Eagles.

After announcing Siemian would make his second straight start, Kubiak decided he’d play his first-round pick and sit Sanchez, something he told him about over breakfast.

“Bottom line, I’ve got a lot to go off of on Mark. He’s played a lot of football. But we needed to see these other two kids play again,” Kubiak said.

Sanchez left the stadium without comment.

It was Sanchez’s job to lose when training camp began and he’s apparently done just that with a slew of turnovers in the preseason.

An afterthought while taking just one snap – a kneel-down – as a rookie last season, Siemian has emerged as the best option to lead the team with Manning on the links and Brock Osweiler in Houston.

Siemian’s only blemish came on a deep ball that went off receiver Cody Latimer‘s hands at the goal line and hit the ground, but was still ruled an interception by safety Cody Davis.

The Rams settled for three field goals by Greg Zuerlein.

M-V-P! M-V-P!

Super Bowl MVP Von Miller recorded his first sack of the preseason, a 9-yard takedown of Case Keenum on the Rams’ first series.

“I feel better than I ever have before with my conditioning,” Miller said. “I’m feeling comfortable out there. We’re ready to go back to the regular season.”

Miller’s was the first of six sacks by the Broncos, including 2 1-2 by LB Dekoda Watson, but the biggest hit was LB Vontarrius Dora‘s clean shot to the chest of No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff just before he left the game in the third quarter.

TALIB TROUBLE

Broncos CB Aqib Talib was pulled following his 15-yard penalty for hitting Keenum out of bounds on a scramble in which the Rams QB was heading for the sideline, not turning upfield.

“You don’t like to see that happen, especially in a preseason game,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.

Keenum, for one, didn’t see it happen.

“It all happened pretty fast,” he said. “I was on the ground before I knew it.”

Kayvon Webster came in and made several nice plays in Talib’s place, including a pass breakup on a fourth-and-1 toss from Jared Goff to Michael Thomas.

ROOKIE WATCH

Rams: Goff was 4 of 12 for 45 yards and was sacked for a 10-yard loss.

Broncos: G Connor McGovern went in at center midway through the fourth quarter.

POSITION BATTLES

Rams: While most of L.A.’s starters played through the first half, RB Todd Gurley sat this one out.

Broncos: Riley Dixon, a seventh-round draft pick, got the start ahead of Britton Colquitt, who has a $4 million hit against the cap this season. Dixon’s night included a 56-yard punt and a nice hold on the 50-yard FG.

INJURY UPDATE

Rams: DE Robert Quinn received his first playing time since undergoing back surgery in December.

Broncos: Anderson needed stiches to close a cut on his right ear. Latimer suffered a knee injury while blocking on a punt return in the third quarter. Kubiak said he didn’t think it was serious. FB Andy Janovich injured a shoulder.

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

The NFL’s final 4 all overcame injuries to star players

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The list of players sitting out this weekend’s conference championships is almost as impressive as the starting lineups: Julian Edelman. Carson Wentz. Dalvin Cook. Dont'a Hightower. Allen Robinson. Sam Bradford.

Following the NFL’s season of carnage that claimed the likes of, among others, Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Joe Thomas, this year’s final four all overcame not only the odds – “Minneapolis Miracle , anyone?” – but devastating injuries to key starters.

“We have a tough and resilient team,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said of the NFC’s top seed , which is missing its second-year QB in Wentz, an MVP hopeful when he blew out a knee in December.

Even before Wentz’s injury thrust backup Nick Foles into the starting job for the playoffs, the Eagles lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, playmaking middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, versatile return specialist Darren Sproles, and special teams captain Chris Maragos.

Yet, here they are, 60 minutes from Minneapolis and Super Bowl 52.

“I think that starts at the top with Doug, because he sets the tone for being resilient and even keeled,” Long said of his coach, Doug Pederson. “At the end of the day, we have a tough group of guys.”

So do the Minnesota Vikings, who are trying to reach their first Super Bowl in more than four decades and fulfill mantra to “Bring it Home” and become the first NFL team to play the title game in its own stadium.

And they’re doing so behind Case Keenum, who crashed Tom Brady‘s playoff party along with fellow perennial backup Foles and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

Together, the four quarterbacks left standing have a combined five Super Bowl rings, two NFL MVP awards and four Super Bowl MVP trophies. Brady, of course, owns all of that hardware himself.

Such is the panorama of these playoffs following a season of pain in which so many superstars were rendered sideline spectators with broken bones, snapped ligaments, torn muscles.

Keenum replaced an injured Bradford, who had replaced an injured Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford, now back in uniform as Keenum’s backup, blew out a knee in the first month of the season, as did rookie running back in Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Behind resilient coach Mike Zimmer , who resisted the urge to quit just before he got the Vikings’ head coaching gig in 2014, Minnesota rolled right along. Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

“We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. “They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

The Patriots are also a bunch of fighters; they reached their seventh straight AFC title game despite losing Edelman, Brady’s top target, to a torn ACL in the preseason, and Hightower to a torn chest muscle in November.

Play caller Josh McDaniels and Brady, who led New England to a fifth Super Bowl title last year despite the absence of Rob Gronkowski, adjusted accordingly to Edelman’s absence with another terrific year.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy stepped in for Hightower and ranked third on the team with 73 tackles and second with 5+ sacks despite missing three of the final five games with a calf injury.

Van Noy’s sack total was just a half-sack shy of Hightower’s career high set in 2014.

“The thing about K.V. is he’s very versatile,” said Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty. “So we’ve used him a bunch of different ways. … He’s been a big asset to our team.”

The Jaguars are the healthiest of the remaining playoff teams. They have only one opening-day starter on injured reserve: former Pro Bowl receiver Robinson, who tore his left ACL on Jacksonville’s opener.

Four months removed from reconstructive surgery, Robinson is now traveling with the team, so he’ll be on the sideline Sunday at New England, serving as a mentor to a raw receiving corps.

“Every person in this locker room put in a lot of work to get to this point, with me being one of them,” said Robinson, who was poised for another big year after dominating the league’s best secondary in training camp.

His injury on Jacksonville’s third offensive snap created a huge void for the offense. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns tried to pick up the slack, but they ended up on the sideline at one point with injuries, too, leaving rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook to assume bigger roles.

Cole, an undrafted rookie from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan, had 42 catches for 748 yards and three scores in the regular season. He added a clutch 45-yard catch that set up a late TD in Jacksonville’s 45-42 stunner at Pittsburgh last week.

“I wish I could just wake up tomorrow and feel like I did Sept. 9,” Robinson said, “but I understand it’s going to be a process. I know I’ll be back to that point and better.”

Like so many other stars, Robinson will be in street clothes Sunday, cheering on his teammates in hopes of getting a sideline pass to the Super Bowl.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

With contributions from AP Pro Football Writers Rob Maaddi and Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Mark Long and Kyle Hightower.

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Steratore will lead 7-person officiating crew for Super Bowl

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NEW YORK (AP) Referee Gene Steratore will lead the seven-person crew of on-field game officials working the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The other members of the officiating crew for the Feb. 4 game are Roy Ellison (umpire), Jerry Bergman (down judge), Byron Boston (line judge), Tom Hill (field judge), Scott Edwards (side judge) and Perry Paganelli (back judge).

The crew has 127 years of NFL officiating experience and 101 combined playoff game assignments.

Steratore entered the league in 2003 as a field judge and was promoted to referee in 2006. He has officiated 11 playoff games, including two conference championships. He was the alternate referee for the 2010 Super Bowl.

Under the NFL officiating program’s evaluation system, officials must be rated in the top tier at their position to be eligible for the Super Bowl. They must have at least five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments.

Paul Weidner is the replay official.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL