Bradley Roby

Elway rebuilt the Broncos following Seattle shellacking

Leave a comment

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Two years ago, the Denver Broncos touted the highest-scoring offense the league had ever seen, a record-breaking bunch that piled up 606 points in steamrolling to the Super Bowl.

It all imploded during a stunning 43-8 loss to the Seattle Seahawks and their “Legion of Boom” secondary.

As he slogged through the rubble of yet another Super Bowl landslide, general manager John Elway, who lost three of them by a combined 96 points before capping his Hall of Fame career with back-to-back rings, embarked on an extreme makeover.

He transformed his offensive juggernaut into a defensive powerhouse like Seattle’s, maybe better.

The defense that will line up for Denver on Feb. 7 against Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers includes just three starters from the Broncos’ last Super Bowl appearance: linebacker Danny Trevathan and linemen Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams.

Two months after that 35-point whooping, Elway signed thumpers DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib to free agent contracts worth $109.5 million combined.

Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr. each visited Dr. James Andrews for ACL surgeries, then rehabbed together, pushing each other back into All-Pro form. And Derek Wolfe recovered from a seizure disorder that also rendered him a helpless sideline spectator during that nightmare in New Jersey.

Then, Elway got lucky. Twice.

All Big-Ten cornerback Bradley Roby of Ohio State was expected to go to a rebuilder as a consensus top-15 talent in the 2014 draft. But he found himself in Denver at No. 31 after a couple of run-ins with the law that hurt his draft stock but didn’t scare away Elway.

Roby, suspended for the Buckeyes’ first game his senior season after being accused of getting in a bar fight, resolved a citation for operating a vehicle while under the influence just before draft weekend by pleading guilty to a reduced charge.

Roby began his NFL career by declaring “I’m not a bad guy.”

He said the bouncer was the aggressor in the bar brouhaha, and that he was asleep behind the wheel, not driving drunk. “I can honestly say in those situations I have never committed a crime. I’m going to rest my case on that,” he said. “I’m not a bad guy, not a guy you have to worry about off the field.”

He’s a guy opponents have had to worry about aplenty on the field.

Teaming with Talib and Harris, Roby gives the Broncos the best cornerback combo in the league.

Last year, lightning struck again.

When a state trooper found weed in his car after stopping him for speeding just four days before the NFL draft, Shane Ray knew he hadn’t helped himself.

His misdemeanor citation certainly wound up costing him financially after he fell from a projected top-10 pick all the way to No. 23. The Broncos traded up to grab the SEC defensive player of the year.

And like Roby a year earlier, Ray suddenly found himself in an ideal situation.

“If you’re going to fall,” said his mother, Sabrina Johnson, “who better to catch you than John Elway?”

And who better to learn from than Miller and Ware?

Instead of serving as a cornerstone for a rebuilding franchise, Ray is playing for a Super Bowl-bound team alongside a pair of top pass rushers he’s long admired.

Recreational pot shops are almost as common as 7-Elevens in Denver. While that might have seemed like a problem waiting to happen, Elway dismissed any such notion, stressing that while cannabis is cool in Colorado, “it’s still illegal in the NFL.”

Ray, subjected to random drug testing from the get-go, insisted he was no pothead and vowed to put his marijuana mistake behind him. Like Roby, Ray has been a model citizen and teammate. He teamed with Shaq Barrett, an undrafted free agent who transformed himself from a practice squad player last year into a pass-rushing menace. The two combined for 9 1-2 sacks.

When the Broncos inquired about Browns left tackle Joe Thomas at the trade deadline, any chance of bolstering Denver’s O-line was scuttled when Cleveland asked for Barrett.

Together, Ray and Barrett provided a second wave of pass-rushing pressure that kept Miller and Ware fresh for the kinds of performances Denver’s defense provided Sunday, when the Broncos hit Tom Brady 23 times.

Roby made the game-saving interception of Brady’s 2-point conversion attempt to tie it with 12 seconds left, sending Denver back to the Super Bowl – this time with the defense Elway so desperately desired.

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

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

Broncos accustomed to pulling out wins in tight situations

Leave a comment

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As confetti cannons showered the Denver Broncos with a blizzard of orange and blue, Methodist minister Don Bird of Aurora, Colorado, expressed the feelings of so many sweat-drenched, fingernail-nibbling fans.

“I am convinced that Broncos fans are the most well-conditioned fans in the NFL,” Bird wrote on Facebook after Peyton Manning bested Tom Brady in the AFC championship. “Our hearts got a workout with every game but one this season. Who needs the gym?”

The Broncos (14-4) are heading to Super Bowl 50 on the strength of a dizzying defense and opportunistic offense that led Denver to an NFL-record 11 wins by seven points or less, including Sunday’s 20-18 classic against the New England Patriots.

“We never waiver on our faith,” linebacker Brandon Marshall said after Denver denied Brady’s 2-point attempt to tie it with 12 seconds remaining. “We stay strong. We believe. Everybody plays hard. We play fast. We play physical. Four quarters.

“What blowout did we have this year? Maybe the Packers game, that’s it. So, we are used to playing in close games. That’s what we do. We’re used to playing in games that come down to the wire. And we prevail.”

The Broncos’ only breather all season came when Green Bay brought a 6-0 record to Denver in November and left with a 29-10 defeat, the worst outing of Aaron Rodgers‘ brilliant career.

Denver is 11-3 in games decided by seven points or less, and a 12-point win at Detroit was close until David Bruton Jr.’s interception led to a last-minute TD.

The Broncos’ best hope to bring home another Lombardi Trophy to go with the two GM John Elway won during his Hall of Fame playing career might very well be to keep it close against Carolina in Super Bowl 50.

“That kind of has become a theme for us,” coach Gary Kubiak said after Denver’s 23-17 win over Pittsburgh in the divisional round, “to grind and work and just keep ourselves in position to be successful.”

The Broncos just don’t get tight when the games get that way.

Denver’s wins have come by an average of just 6.92 points. Carolina’s average margin of victory is nearly twice that – 13.41 points.

In the 2012 season, the Broncos rolled into the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak in which their average margin of victory was 16.45 points. They promptly lost in double-overtime to Baltimore 38-35 in what was their first close game in three months.

They piled up a record 606 points in 2013 and got shellacked by Seattle in the Super Bowl.

Elway would rather bring the league’s No. 1 defense to the Super Bowl like he’s doing this year than the NFL’s No. 1 offense like he did two years ago.

After that last landslide, Elway signed free agents DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib. The last two drafts, he also selected defenders who slipped down the board in first-round picks Bradley Roby and Shane Ray.

He replaced John Fox with Kubiak, who brought more balance to the offense with a greater emphasis on the ground game as Manning’s passing skills began to diminish at age 39.

The Broncos benefited from the offensive balance, defensive dominance and abundance of tight games.

“I think it helps playing a lot of close games during the course of the season, starting with the very first one against Baltimore,” Manning said. “That was a dog fight, grinder and went down to the last drive. If you can be in a lot of those games and win those games, it certainly gives you confidence and, hey, it’s playoff football.”

When Elway switched coaches last year, he said he wanted to build a team that would go down “kicking and screaming,” after Fox’s teams lost their last game by a cumulative 150-66.

That toughness has been on display all season as they made a habit of winning close games.

“I mean, defense wins championships,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We’ve had so many games that we’ve had to win in the fourth quarter or 2-point conversion or things like that all season.”

Denver’s model is no longer lighting up scoreboards but grinding it out, hanging around and making big plays at the end.

“The mindset to me is that you know we play for 60 minutes – even though we haven’t consistently played well for 60 minutes – you know our mindset has been there,” Elway said. “And that’s why this team is a tougher team because it’s a mentally tough one.”

This time, it’s Cam Newton and the Panthers bringing the high-octane offense to the Super Bowl and the Broncos sporting the star-studded secondary and ferocious front-seven.

They also bring a bravado borne from having played so many close games.

“Guys really don’t panic,” Harris said. “We’ve been in these situations all season. It’s really prepared us for this time. I think in the past we’ve had a lot of blowouts, we were beating teams by a lot of points and we didn’t ever get in those situations like this. But we’ve been in these situations all year, so it’s normal for us now.

“It doesn’t faze us with the game on the line.”

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

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

Brady, Patriots fall 20-18 to Broncos in AFC title game

Leave a comment

DENVER — Tom Brady isn’t perfect. Stephen Gostkowski? He almost always is.

While Brady made the best out of a less-than-ideal day, the single mistake Gostkowski made – missing his first extra point in nine years – played a big role in New England missing out on a trip to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots’ reign as the NFL champions ended with a 20-18 loss to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game Sunday.

“At the end, we just couldn’t make enough plays,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Disappointing, disappointing result. There’s such a fine line today between winning and losing.”

The NFL wanted to spice things up by moving the extra point back this season. They certainly did at that.

With a chance to tie the game early, Gostkowski sent his extra point fluttering off to the right. This from a kicker who made an NFL-record 523 consecutive PATs. It put Brady and the offense in chase mode the rest of the way.

“I just feel terrible,” Gostkowski said. “All day, these guys put their bodies and lives on the line, and for me to come out here and miss a kick, it’s a nightmare scenario. I can’t even explain how I feel right now. It’s just a complete shock and I let a lot of people down.”

Not that his teammates were blaming the right foot of Gostkowski in a game where the Patriots (13-5) turned the ball over twice on interceptions and two more times on downs.

“You definitely shouldn’t put the heat on him. It’s a team game,” tight end Rob Gronkowski said. “You can’t put it on the hands of Steph. There’s no way.”

This was also far from Brady’s best performance. He was constantly hounded by Denver’s top-ranked defense, especially Von Miller as the linebacker finished with an interception and 2 1/2 sacks. Brady was 27 of 56 for 310 yards and two interceptions.

He led the Patriots on a TD drive in the waning seconds, hitting Gronkowski for a 4-yard score on fourth down. Pulling within two points at 20-18 and 12 seconds left, the Patriots went for the 2-point conversion.

Aqib Talib stepped in front of Brady’s pass and deflected it toward the sky. Bradley Roby made the pick.

The Broncos (14-4) recovered the onside kick and, after a knee by Manning, the celebration began. Manning is now 3-1 against Brady when it has counted the most – with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.

“I’m sure everyone can look at different plays throughout the game when it’s that close and say, `Man I wish I had made that play,”‘ Brady said. “But I’m proud of the way we fought and we certainly fought to the end.”

A big game decided near the goal line? The Patriots have certainly been in that situation before. They won the Super Bowl a season ago with an interception at the goal line in the final seconds against Seattle.

This time, they lost a chance at a return by throwing a pick at the goal line.

“You’ve just got to go out there and make more plays,” Gronkowski said.

Manning gave Brady a hearty handshake before No. 12 left the field. This town has been a house of horrors for Brady, who’s now 2-7 in the Mile High City.

“We just didn’t play well enough. You know, you get to the AFC championship and you get down, you’ve got to play well,” Patriots safety Devin McCourty. “You’ve got to play, really your best football of the year. Today, we just fell short. A couple of plays here and there where they made better plays really were the deciding factors of the game.”

The Patriots had several promising drives in the fourth quarter end when they gave up the ball on downs. The Patriots drove to the Denver 16, only to be stopped on a fourth-and-1 when Julian Edelman was tackled short of the first line after catching a floating pass.

Later, the Patriots faced fourth-and-6 at the Denver 14, but Brady missed Gronkowski over the middle.

Asked why he eschewed field goals, Belichick simply said: “‘Cause of the scoring situation in the game.”

“There were a lot of plays in the game, a lot of big plays,” Belichick added. “We had a chance at the end.”

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