Ward, Stewart vow to return from injuries for Super Bowl

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — T.J. Ward’s Super Bowl guarantee doesn’t exactly possess the same sort of sizzle as Joe Namath once promising — and delivering — a win.

For the Denver Broncos, though, the strong safety’s guarantee just might make the difference in one.

Ward vowed he would play a week from Sunday despite a tender ankle. Even more, free safety Darian Stewart pledged to be back, too, after spraining the MCL in his right knee during a win over New England in the AFC title game. Their health is the biggest question mark for Denver heading into Super Bowl 50 against Carolina.

Ask them, and there’s really no uncertainty at all.

“Without a doubt in my mind, I’m playing,” Stewart said.

Ward was just as adamant: “Anytime you get an opportunity to play in this game, and you can run a little bit, I’m guaranteeing you’re going to be out there.”

Especially since this is basically a homecoming for Ward. He went to high school in Concord, California, which is about 60 miles away from Levi’s Stadium.

“There’s something about where you come from — the air, the grass, the sounds — that brings up memories,” Ward said. “Sometimes, I’ll be somewhere away from home and smell that grass and it reminds me of playing Pop Warner. This is going to take me back of when I was dreaming of this moment.”

Only, now it’s a reality.

But trying to bring down Panthers quarterback Cam Newton may prove to be a nightmare. These two safeties could prove instrumental in containing Newton, who’s 6-foot-5, 245 pounds and does just about everything well.

“He’s probably at all times one of the top-10 biggest players on the field,” Ward said. “He’s a talented dude. He’s got a big arm. He can run. Did he win MVP yet? Well, he’s probably going to win the MVP. He won the Heisman. He’s a rare breed of athlete.”

That’s why Ward needs to be at 100 percent — or close to it anyway — for this top-ranked defense. He could also see some time covering Greg Olsen, a tight end who ” works well within that offense,” Ward explained. “He has great hands. He runs good routes. He seems to be a smart player.”

Stewart banged up his knee midway through the third quarter, while Ward left early in the fourth. That left backup safeties Shiloh Keo and Josh Bush to patrol the field against Tom Brady & Co.

Ward and Stewart have yet to practice this week and are listed as questionable on the injury report.

“Extra days are always needed for healing, so I definitely think it helps,” Stewart said. “It’s just getting healthy and getting ready to play.”

This has been a tumultuous season for Ward, who missed the first game of the season because of a league suspension and three more later in the year with an ankle ailment. But he’s been a playmaker when he’s been on the field. He finished the regular season with 61 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles.

Stewart almost instantly fit in since joining the team this season. He intercepted Brady last weekend before hurting his knee, an injury that doesn’t have him all that concerned.

“Just getting as much treatment as I can and that’s really the plan right now,” Stewart said. “I mean, get better along the way.”

Same plan for Ward, because home is waiting.

“I can’t wait to get back in the Bay Area so I can taste that Bay Area air,” Ward said. “Get that home feeling. Get the butterflies in your stomach.

“It doesn’t really get too much more special than the 50th Super Bowl anniversary at home, in your hometown. I don’t think you can write a better story than that. Unless we win.

“When we win.”

All injured Broncos

will go to Super Bowl

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Ryan Clady and Jeff Heuerman didn’t even make it to training camp before getting injured during offseason workouts. They’re going to the Super Bowl with the rest of their teammates, though.

The seven players on injured reserve flew out with the team when the Denver Broncos left for the Super Bowl on Sunday.

That’s a departure from two years ago when former coach John Fox left behind all his injured players, including stars Von Miller and Chris Harris Jr., when the Broncos flew to New York.

“I think it’s great,” said Clady, who’s missing his second Super Bowl, last time with a foot injury, this time with a knee injury. “I like the fact that everybody’s coming because honestly I thought it was going to be like last time.”

Coach Gary Kubiak said it’s all part of his promise he made to the team from the start.

“We’re all in this together,” Kubiak explained. “There are guys that we’ve lost through the course of the year. … But they’ve been a big part of us. They’ve been with us. One thing I ask guys to do when they’re on IR is stay involved with the team, don’t just remove themselves. Guys have done that.

“It’s important. Everybody is going Sunday. We’re all together. We’re going to do this together. That’s the way we’ve been all year.”

His players praised Kubiak’s decision, especially Miller and Harris, who were awaiting ACL surgeries last time and didn’t fly out until the families and staff members traveled late in Super Bowl week.

They missed out on media day madness, the team photo, all the fun, really.

Miller’s season that year began with a six-game drug suspension and ended in December when he got hurt. He was allowed to stick around team headquarters during his NFL-mandated banishment, so being left behind during Super Bowl week was especially stinging, he said.

“That four days, it ate me up, seeing them on TV and not being around them,” Miller said.

Harris also has bitter memories of that decision, which was met with derision in the locker room.

“I mean, that was so hard to not be in any of that, to enjoy that,” said Harris, who was hurt in the playoffs that year. “So, for those guys to get to enjoy that this time, I’m happy for those guys. To be able to show the true team aspect that everybody’s been needed, I like that approach.”

The Broncos figure the injured players all helped lay the foundation of this Super Bowl run. So they deserve to relish the trip just as much as recent reinforcements Shiloh Keo or Vernon Davis.

“I feel like I had a little bit of a stamp on this season,” Clady said, “just being here for a long time and being a part of getting Peyton Manning here and the success we’ve had since he’s been here. It’s exciting. I’m happy for my teammates. Unfortunately, I can’t play. But I’m happy for guys I’ve been working with for years, and we’ve been grinding.

“Even last year, practicing with some of the guys, working with D-Ware (DeMarcus Ware), I feel like I helped them get a jump on some of the other tackles in this league.”

The decision to exclude the injured players was one of several blunders the old Broncos coaching staff made 24 months ago.

There was the arduous practices leading up to the game with a roster older than Seattle’s and Fox’s decision to turn down the speakers that simulate crowd noise at practice because “it’s not an away game.”

A silent snap count would have been so much better because Seattle’s 12th Man showed up on Denver’s first play from scrimmage and helped ruin whatever great game plan Denver had installed.

Manning lined up in the shotgun and called for the ball from his 14-yard line, but his center couldn’t hear the cadence. When he stepped up to reset the play, the ball sailed past him and into the north end zone for a safety.

Twelve seconds in, the Broncos trailed and never recovered on their way to a humbling 43-8 blowout by the swarming Seahawks, a remarkable rout of the highest-scoring team in NFL history.

The Broncos aren’t taking any chances this time. They’re going with lighter practices next week but they’ll crank up the volume.

“Yeah, we’re practicing with noise,” Kubiak said after practice Saturday. “Peyton mentioned that to me and so we took the approach this week to practice with noise.”

And come Sunday, they’ll leave no teammate behind.

Davis heads to Super Bowl

with broken arm and all

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Thomas Davis knows all about pain and toughness.

So excuse the Panthers All-Pro linebacker if he snickers at the notion that 12 screws and a plate in his broken right forearm is about to keep him from the biggest game of his career.

“I’m still looking forward to playing on Super Bowl Sunday,” he says with a wide, knowing grin.

Davis has overcome too much, and at 32 come too far to even think about missing this one.

He is the first known NFL player to battle back and play after tearing the same ACL three times. It’s even more remarkable considering he has returned to play at an All-Pro level after his third surgery in 2011.

Now, in a cruel piece of irony, the man who has waited 11 seasons to play in a Super Bowl breaks his arm in the NFC championship game, giving him only two weeks to recover. The injury came in the second quarter of a 49-15 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

“I was devastated for him at the time,” Carolina defensive tackle Dwan Edwards. “The guy has been through a lot and is the heart and soul of our team. He’s our emotional leader, our playmaker on the field.”

Given what Davis has been through, teammates aren’t surprised that he intends to face the Denver Broncos on Feb. 7 in Santa Clara, California.

“Knowing Thomas, he is used to overcoming obstacles,” safety Tre Boston said. “Hey, give me 12 screws and a plate in my arm and I’m not playing for a month. But nothing can hold back that guy.”

“I’m no doubting Thomas,” cracked coach Ron Rivera.

Davis’ three knee injuries cut short his seasons in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Still, he is as fast as ever and seems to be getting better each season. He turned in perhaps his best season in 2015, with 105 tackles and career highs in sacks (5.5), forced fumbles (four) and interceptions (four).

And while he was going through hundreds upon hundreds of grueling leg raises, squats and stretches to rebuild his knee, Davis at times did contemplate retirement. But, mostly, those were fleeting thoughts. In the back of his mind was the Super Bowl.

“I never really look at it from a personal standpoint,” he said. “It’s great for this team to be in this position. We’ve worked so hard all season long to accomplish this goal and put ourselves in this position to possibly win the Super Bowl, so it’s great to be in this position as a football team and I’m just happy to be a part of it.”

Such an attitude epitomizes Davis. To a man, teammates talk about the time, pain and sweat it took for him to come back from a severe knee injury. Not once, not twice, but three times. They say it’s difficult for the average fan to comprehend.

Broncos Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller knows something about this — he had ACL surgery in 2014.

“I only got one (and) it was hard to come back,” Miller said. “So with (three) I can’t even imagine all the hard work that goes into him getting back on the field. So I think that speaks volumes to the type of person that he is. … He’s going to be there. If he has a little bit of energy, he’s going to be there ready to play.”

Davis won last year’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award for his community work. A first-round draft pick from Georgia, he has played all 11 seasons in Carolina, sticking with the Panthers through good times and bad. He’s become a local sports legend by overcoming the longest odds. It has the makings of a Hollywood movie.

Now, says teammate Luke Kuechly, all that’s missing is the ending.

“We’re doing everything we can to get him a (Super Bowl) ring,” Kuechly said. “I think that would be awesome. He deserves it.”

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