Tag Archives: Nick Kasa

At 3-0, Peyton Manning rewards himself with 20 minutes in the cold tub

Starting with the important stuff: The Broncos did not determine who would score their final touchdown Monday night against the Raiders by playing rock-paper-scissors.

The three running backs — Ronnie Hillman, Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball — did play the children’s game near the sideline at Mile High when Peyton Manning called timeout with the ball on the Oakland 1-yard line and 11:31 left in the game. When Hillman, who carried for 32 ¬†yards on the two previous plays, went back in for the goal line play, it looked like he’d won.

“Actually, I lost,” he said afterward. “We was just messing around.”

Still, it’s a sign of how much fun the Broncos are having these days. They are undefeated, having won all three of their games by double digits. They are averaging slightly more than 42 points a game. Manning now owns the NFL record for most touchdown passes in the first three games of a season (12), breaking a mark set by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady two years ago.

“They’re a devastating team, and that’s obvious from tonight,” said Raiders rookie tight end Nick Kasa, who was playing for the University of Colorado this time last year.

“It’s really about being able to match, and even exceed, the efficiency that they are operating at,” said Raiders middle linebacker Nick Roach. “When you aren’t able to do that, it kind of snowballs like it did tonight. You have to give them credit for that, though.”

“I still think there is plenty we can improve on, I really do,” Manning said.

He was shivering when he came out to meet the inquiring minds. He’d just spent 20 minutes in a cold tub, trying to jump-start his recovery looking ahead to a short week of preparation for the Eagles.

“It’s nice of the NFL to give Philly 12 days and give us six,” he said, breaking briefly into his Saturday Night Live deadpan. It’s actually 10 for the Eagles after their Thursday night game last week, but what this tells you is Manning is already on to the next one, even as we tally up the records from this one:

  • The Broncos won their 14th regular-season game in a row — the last 11 of 2012 and the first three this year — tying the franchise record. It’s a particularly auspicious record because it was set in the championship years of 1997 (the last regular-season game) and 1998 (the first 13). It is the longest active streak in the NFL.
  • The Broncos’ 127 points through three games tied for second all time with the 1966 Cowboys of Don Meredith, Don Perkins, Dan Reeves and Bob Hayes. Also, in a supporting role, Pete Gent, who went on to write North Dallas Forty.¬†The only team to score more was roughly the same Cowboys team two years later, which put up 132.
  • Manning’s 12 touchdown passes are the most by any quarterback in the first three games of a season. His 12 touchdowns without an interception has been accomplished by one other quarterback — Brady — over any three-game stretch.

When I asked Manning about the record for early-season touchdown passes, he broke it down characteristically:

“We’ve worked hard on the passing game, starting with the offseason and training camp. We knew it was going to play a pivotal role for us this year. But I still think you strive for balance. I think we averaged four yards per carry in the run game, 4.5 yards or so (actually 4.7), and when you can do that, that can certainly help your passing game and help put their defense in a little bit of a bind.

“You know: ‘Do we drop back and play zone?’ That’s opening up running lanes. ‘Do we crowd the box?’ Now you’ve got one-on-one. If you put the defense in that position, that’s a good thing.”

No doubt, but many people are familiar with this line of reasoning. Just one, in the history of the NFL, has started a season with 12 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his first three games.

“We think it’s silly also,” said tight end Julius Thomas, one of only three players in the league to have caught a touchdown pass in every game so far (teammate Wes Welker and Saints tight end Jimmy Graham are the others).

“To think about what he’s been able to do, week-in and week-out, we just shake our heads. He’s playing at such a high level right now. He just continues to get better and make everybody around him better. We’re definitely happy we have 18 running things for us.”

Manning’s explanation for the absence of interceptions, like his explanation for the bounty of touchdowns, was grounded in the prosaic weeds of executing plays correctly.

“Just good play-calling,” he said. “Trying to make good, smart, sound decisions. I think guys are doing a good job getting open on time. I think guys have a good clock in their head about when to come out of the break versus different coverages. Protection has been good, so it gives you a chance to see the field and try to throw accurate footballs.”

The pattern changed a little this week. Instead of sparring early and then dominating the second half, the Broncos came out with a rush, took a 27-7 lead into the locker room at halftime, then played a little sloppily in the second half and settled for a 37-21 final.

Manning’s greatest fear seems to be the Broncos peaking too early. So just as he criticized the first halves of the first two games, he criticized the second of this one.

“I still think we can correct some things,” he said. “Our defense did a good job holding their offense. When we have those chances down in the red zone, third-and-1, to get stopped and have to settle for a field goal on that one drive. Had the sack-fumble. You’re not looking to play the perfect game. You’re looking to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

“I thought we left a couple of touchdowns out there tonight. Those are things we can fix, which you’re going to need those in a game at certain points of a season. But just got to keep emphasizing protecting the ball and eliminate some penalties, I thought, early in the game. I think we do a good job overcoming those penalties from time to time, but I still think there is plenty we can improve on, I really do.”

In that last answer, you could see him reliving Monday’s opening drive, remembering the frustration of right tackle Orlando Franklin’s holding penalty on the first play from scrimmage and Moreno’s dropped pass on the second. But Manning overcame the second-and-20 with consecutive completions to Eric Decker, who finished with eight for 133 yards and the touchdown that culminated that possession.

A solid outing by left tackle Chris Clark, replacing the injured Ryan Clady, was marred by the sack-fumble, when Raiders defensive end Lamarr Houston beat him to the outside and hit Manning from behind. Rookie running back Montee Ball, who fumbled into the end zone to wipe out a touchdown drive last week, fumbled again as the Broncos tried to run out the clock on what would have been a 37-14 verdict.

The Raiders entered the game ranked second in the league in rushing. The Broncos were first in rushing defense. If this was supposed to be the unstoppable force vs. the immoveable object, the unstoppable force proved eminently stoppable. Darren McFadden’s nine yards on 12 carries works out to 0.8 yards per attempt.

“I thought they won the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” said Raiders coach and former Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen. “I think generally when you look at your inability to run the ball or your inability to stop the run, I think you have to start up front.”

“For the first time in my career, guys are getting together after practice and watching film as a collective group,” Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson explained. “When that happens, you get carryover.”

The Manning work ethic seems to be contagious. On both sides of the ball, the Broncos have sometimes looked like they’re toying with their opponents. The question remains: Who’s going to stop them?


CU stumbles to first winless season at home in 92 years

BOULDER — The best thing you can say about Colorado’s 2012 football season is it’s over.

It ended on a beautiful autumn afternoon in which Jon Embree’s second Buffaloes team fought to the final minute to avoid becoming the first CU team since 1920 to go winless at home.

It fell just short, falling to Utah 42-35 to finish the season 1-11 and 0-6 at Folsom Field. The Buffs actually outplayed the Utes for much of the day, finishing with more first downs (25-18), total offense (418-336) and passing yards (306-128). Alas, they also had way more turnovers — five, to the Utes’ one.

CU fans showed their support 39,400 strong by the official count — not bad for a team going nowhere during Thanksgiving break on campus — and were rewarded with an entertaining game that featured back-to-back 100-yard kickoff returns and the crispest passing performance of the season from sophomore quarterback Nick Hirschman, who completed 30 of 51 throws for 306 yards and a touchdown.

Unfortunately, Hirschman also threw four interceptions. The fourth doesn’t really count. It was a desperation heave on CU’s final fourth down that would have resulted in a change of possession if it had fallen incomplete. But the others hurt, particularly the very first, an underthrown screen less than a minute into the game that set up Utah’s first touchdown.

There was a moment in the fourth quarter that seemed to symbolize many of the problems this team faced all year, from coaching to execution. Following the back-to-back kickoff returns, Utah led by the single touchdown that turned out to be its final margin of victory. CU began its subsequent possession at its 25-yard line with 8:12 remaining in the game.

The Buffs drove to their 45, where, on third-and-2, tailback Tony Jones was tackled behind the line of scrimmage for a one-yard loss. That brought up fourth-and-3 with about five and a half minutes left on the game clock.

CU had at least three options: Punt, go for it or try a little trickery with a fake punt. Embree sent out the punt team, then called timeout to think it over. Following the timeout, he replaced the punt team with the offense. Hirschman tried to hit freshman Gerald Thomas on a quick crossing pattern but the ball was batted down and Utah took over.

The change from the punt team to the offense gave the impression the coaching staff hadn’t anticipated the situation and wasn’t sure what it wanted to do. I asked Embree afterward if that was the case.

“I knew what we wanted,” he said. “I just wanted to give (offensive coordinator) Eric (Bieniemy) some more time to really think and decide, be confident, because there was a couple of things we were looking at.”

Did he consider running a fake out of the punt formation he dispatched before the timeout?

“No,” he said. “I just would rather, if we’re going to go for it, go for it with our guys, our offense.”

In any case, the Buffs got the ball back once more, with under 3 minutes to play, and turned it over on that final interception with less than a minute showing.

For CU’s nine seniors, it was a tough Senior Day.

“I would have liked for it to be a lot better, but it was still fun, to get to be in the game until the last play,” said tight end Nick Kasa, who had five catches for 51 yards in his final game. “I just wish things would have been better for us, but I think we all know better things are coming for this program.”

It wasn’t much better for the legion of freshmen who got their college football trial by fire this year. Embree entered the post-game press conference angry about what a fan had said to one of them as he walked off the field.

“I’m just mad ’cause, you know, when people say something to our kids, I got a problem,” Embree said. “Eighteen-year-old kid playing his heart out.”

Embree did not name the object of the fan’s derision, but he was seen consoling Thomas, the freshman receiver from New Orleans, as the two of them walked off of Folsom Field. Associate athletic director Dave Plati later confirmed in a facebook post that Thomas was the target of the taunt.

On both sides of the ball, CU finished the season ranked among the worst programs in Division I football. The defense, in particular, seemed helpless against Pac-12 offenses for much of the year, giving up an average of 46 points a game. I asked two senior linebackers, Jon Major and Doug Rippy, why they thought that was.

“It’s becoming a lot tougher to be a coach on the defensive side,” Major said. “We tried probably five or six different schemes just to try and slow down these teams. Whether it’s personnel or something beyond that — youth, discipline — as these guys continue to grow and get better, something’s going to stick, something’s going to work. Just unfortunately nothing good this year. But I also feel like we finished very strong as a defense.”

“Like Jon said, it was probably hardest for the defensive staff, just trying to figure out what we were going to do, because we had a lot of younger guys playing,” Rippy said. “Last year, if I can recall, we only had one freshman playing on defense, which was Greg Henderson. This year, we had a lot play. We just had to do things to make them comfortable . . . so it was hard. The younger guys, they’re going to learn from it. They’re going to be so much better at it next year.

“With us veteran guys that came back, we kind of knew what we were getting into. We lost a lot of seniors last year and we had such a small senior class. We’re not that vocal. We really show by our actions. The younger guys, they kind of picked that up. But just trying to find a scheme that fits us was kind of hard this year, especially with the personnel we went up against.”

The issues on offense are more easily diagnosed. The Buffs got poor quarterback play for most of the year. Redshirt freshman Shane Dillon is expected to compete for the starting job next year, probably with Hirschman, who showed flashes toward the end of the season amid his interceptions. And Embree has made it clear he intends to convert from what began as a standard pro set to a spread offense, which he used liberally in the finale Friday.

“I think when you look at our games, we’ve moved the ball and been more effective, or had opportunities, when we’ve been doing some of that stuff,” he said. “So I’d like to continue to move forward in that direction.”

Embree has also said for some weeks that he would reassess everything, from scheme to staff, when the season ended. I asked him how long he expected that reassessment to take.

“I don’t want to put a timetable on it, but I’ll continue down that path,” he said. “I’ll be out recruiting. I’m on the road Monday or Tuesday. I want to make sure as I go through this that we’re doing the right things and talking to the right people. But I don’t have a deadline or anything like that.

“But it’s something I’ll start thinking about, and I have been thinking about it, but continue to think on as we move forward. When I have a good idea, we’ll let you guys know, but I don’t think it’s a process that’s just going to drag out.”

As Kasa said in a rare light moment, the program has nowhere to go from here but up. Bill McCartney went 1-10 in 1984, his third season. He switched from a pro set to the wishbone the following spring, won seven games that fall, and never had another losing record. Embree was a player on both of those teams, so he’s seen it done. Whether he can replicate that turnaround remains to be seen.

On his way out the door, Hirschman recounted Embree’s message to his younger players, the ones who will be back next year.

“He just stressed that we never want to feel like this again,” Hirschman said. “This game kind of summed up our whole year. Everything that could have gone wrong did for us.”