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Rockies slugger C.J. Cron eyes All-Star berth

C.J. Cron (25) of the Colorado Rockies takes the field for the top of the fifth inning against the San Francisco Giants at Coors field on Monday, May 16, 2022.
AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post

The stick? The stick won’t shut up. But getting C.J. Cron to talk shop, to wax poetic as to where all that thunder comes from? You’d have better luck squeezing blood from a stone.

“I was hitting with C.J. in the offseason and me and my dad (Chris) were talking hitting, like we normally would,” Kevin Cron, the younger brother of the Rockies’ slugging first baseman, recalled to The Post.

“My dad asked C.J. what he thought. And in a matter of words, C.J. said, ‘I don’t really like talking hitting. I just like to hit.’”

THWACK!

“’If we all hit the way we said we were going to or trying to, then we’d all be All-Stars.’”

Avalanche advance to second round, now wait for Blues or Wild

Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29) celebrates after scoring an empty-net goal against the Nashville Predators to seal Colorado's win in the third period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Monday, May 9, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. The Avalanche won 5-3 to sweep the series 4-0.
Mark Humphrey/AP

The Colorado Avalanche are the first NHL team to advance to the second round this postseason, and the top-seeded team in the Western Conference is coming off simply a dominating performance.

The Avalanche swept Nashville, something that hadn’t happened in the Predators’ first 14 playoff appearances. They scored the first goal in all four games — twice scoring on their first shot of the game. Colorado finished the best-of-seven series with a 5-3 win Monday night and an overall 21-9 scoring edge.

“They’re a really good team,” Nashville captain Roman Josi said. “They make you pay for every little mistake. They got some unbelievable players over there.”

Better yet?

Colorado trailed for a grand total of 4 minutes, 57 seconds in the entire series. That happened in the third period Monday night, and the high-powered Avs answered with three straight goals over the next 11:05 to seal not only the victory, but the series.

“You can’t always win when you have your best, you have to find ways when you’re not,” Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon said. “(Monday) was one of those cases. We just know with all the skill and talent we have that we were going to get one. A lot of good looks and eventually we got a few, so it was nice.”

This puts the Avs in the Western Conference semifinals for a fourth straight season and second consecutive after sweeping their first-round opponent. Since the franchise relocated to Denver, the Avs improved to 6-0 in best-of-seven series after winning the first three games, with their fourth sweep in that span.

They now get to wait for either St. Louis or Minnesota.

“The big thing is now we can take a breath, get a couple days off for our guys, give them some rest and we’ll still get some real good practice time before we get ready for our next opponent,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said.

That includes rest for goalie Darcy Kuemper, who sat out the series clincher still dealing with swelling around his right eye. He took an inadvertent stick to the face late in the first period of Game 3, and Pavel Francouz finished off the series in net.

“Obviously, we don’t know who our opponent is yet, but it’s going to be a familiar team,” defenseman Cale Makar said. “For us, it’s already to that next step. We’re where we want it to be, but we have to make sure that we can stay tight throughout this little break that we have.”

The Avalanche lead all teams this postseason averaging 5.25 goals per game and a league-high 43.8% on the man advantage. Only Pittsburgh (50.5) has taken more shots per game than Colorado with 44.

Makar, named a Norris Trophy finalist for a second straight season, had a goal and two assists in the series clincher, and he now has 10 points to lead all skaters in the playoffs. He is the first defenseman in NHL history with 10 points in a four-game series. The last forward to post double-digit points in a four-game series was Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings, who had 10 points against Colorado in the 2008 Western semifinals.

MacKinnon said Makar might be the NHL’s best player right now with how he dominates from the back end.

“This playoff season, he’s taken another step with his leadership in the room being more vocal,” MacKinnon said. “And obviously on the ice, he’s so dominant. He might be one of the best D to ever play by the end of his career at this rate. Really excited to have him on our team, obviously.”

Colorado Avalanche left wing Andre Burakovsky (95) celebrates a goal by Valeri Nichushkin, right, against the Nashville Predators during the third period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Monday, May 9, 2022, in Nashville, Tenn. The Avalanche won 5-3 to sweep the series 4-0.
Mark Humphrey/AP

Nikola Jokic captures 2nd straight NBA MVP award

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, looks to pass the ball as Golden State Warriors center Kevon Looney, center, and forward Draymond Green defend in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round Western Conference playoff series Sunday, April 24, 2022, in Denver.
David Zalubowski/AP

DENVER (AP) — Denver’s Nikola Jokic has won his second consecutive Most Valuable Player award after a season in which he finished with numbers never before seen in NBA history, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press.

The NBA was preparing to make the announcement in the coming days, likely this week, according to the person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity Monday because the voting results have not been announced.

ESPN, citing sources, first reported that Jokic would be named MVP again.

The Nuggets’ 7-foot center was the first player in league history to eclipse 2,000 points, 1,000 rebounds and 500 assists in a season. And that sort of dominance by the player nicknamed “Joker” helped convince voters that he should be the 13th player of the NBA’s exclusive MVP back-to-back club.

The other finalists — who will finish second and third in some order — were Philadelphia center Joel Embiid, who led the league in scoring average, and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the reigning champion Milwaukee Bucks.

The 27-year-old Jokic averaged 27.1 points, 13.8 rebounds and 7.9 assists on a team that was missing two max players in Jamal Murray (ACL) and Michael Porter Jr. (back). Required to carry the load night in and out, the big man from Sombor, Serbia, answered the call and guided the Nuggets to a 48-win season. They earned the No. 6 seed in the West, before losing in five games to the Golden State Warriors in the opening round of the playoffs.

“It’s just remarkable what he’s done,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone recently said of Jokic. “I know that I’m very biased, I admit it wholeheartedly — the MVP isn’t even a competition. There’s other great players, I’m not saying they’re not great players, but what Nikola Jokic has done this year, with this team, with everything that we’ve had to go through, is incredible. He was good last year and he’s even better this year.”

The award is likely the start of a huge offseason for Jokic, who is eligible for a supermax extension that could guarantee him nearly $254 million over five seasons starting with 2023-24. He’ll make $32.4 million next season.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, third from left, drives the lane as, from left, Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins, forward Otto Porter Jr. and guard Klay Thompson defend in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round Western Conference playoff series, Sunday, April 24, 2022, in Denver.
David Zalubowski/AP

“There’s nothing more important” than keeping Jokic, Nuggets president of basketball operations Tim Connelly recently said.

Jokic joins rarefied company in winning for a second straight season. The other players to win two in a row include Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, LeBron James (twice), Steve Nash, Tim Duncan, Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Moses Malone and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (twice). Larry Bird, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell each won the award in three straight seasons.

Next year, Jokic will have his chance at a threepeat as well.

Known for his pinpoint passing as much as his soft touch, Jokic finished with a league-leading 19 triple-doubles. The 41st pick of the 2014 draft now has 76 in his career, which trails only Chamberlain (78) among centers.

After being knocked out of the playoffs — he averaged 31 points, 13.2 rebounds — Jokic was asked how he might celebrate should he win MVP.

“Probably with some music, beer, friends around, family,” he said. “Like how you’re supposed to do probably.

“But if I don’t get it, I’m not going to die. I’m just going to keep playing, keep trying to play the right way like I did my whole life.”

There was a time when the Jokic was maligned for his game. More specifically, his defense and not being able to jump. His once-pudgy frame — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich good-naturedly ribbed him about it — has more strength to it.

Ever bother him that his game doesn’t seem to generate the level of respect as other standout players?

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) passes the ball as Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) defends during the first half of Game 5 of an NBA basketball first-round playoff series in San Francisco, Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
Jed Jacobsohn/AP

“Can’t care less, brother,” Jokic said.

He sees the court with the clarity of a point guard and has an arsenal of shots that includes smooth baby hooks around the rim and a soft 3-point touch.

Popovich had the apropos answer when asked if it was more important to take away Jokic’s shot attempts or passes: “I don’t think anybody has figured that out,” he said. “He’s a great one.”

No argument from New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.

“If anyone is jogging, he’s going to make you pay for that. If you are out of position or mistake on a cut, he’ll make you pay for that,” Thibodeau said earlier. “Terrific player.”

Jokic cares immensely about winning — games, not hardware. He’s not one to lobby on his own behalf, just letting his numbers do his talking. Last season when he won, he averaged 26.4 points, 10.8 boards and 8.3 assists. This season, he took his game to another level in making his fourth straight All-Star team.

“If that’s enough, it’s enough,” he said. “If not, you cannot control that.”

Funny story about his MVP trophy from a season ago: He wasn’t exactly sure where it was as his family moves.

“It is here in Denver,” Jokic recently cracked.

AP Basketball Writer Tim Reynolds, AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton and freelance writer Michael Kelly contributed to this report.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic gestures after hitting a 3-point basket against the Golden State Warriors in the first half of Game 4 of an NBA basketball first-round Western Conference playoff series Sunday, April 24, 2022, in Denver.
David Zalubowski/AP

Bo Byram’s message to young players dealing with head injuries: “You’re not going to get through it on your own”

Bo Byram’s first public comments about his third attempted return to the Avalanche this season sounded unsettling.

“I don’t want to get too excited,” the rookie defenseman said on April 5 in Pittsburgh, hours before he suited up for the first time in three months with the Avs.

One week and three games later, Byram was still in the lineup, and still not feeling any concussion-related symptoms he has experienced on and off for more than a year. Not long removed from contemplating the potential end of his hockey career, Byram has renewed energy and an opportunity to chase a Stanley Cup.

It was a painful 12 months for the first defenseman selected in the 2019 draft — a can’t-miss prospect tormented by blows to his head. Byram’s only 20 years old, born four days after the Avalanche won its last Stanley Cup in 2001. But he feels like a veteran of pain.

Read more via The Denver Post.

Nikola Jokic sets Nuggets’ mark with 11th NBA Western Conference Player of the Week honor

Los Angeles Lakers forward Carmelo Anthony, left, and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic battle for a rebound during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Los Angeles.
Mark J. Terrill/AP

Nikola Jokic set a Nuggets record on Monday when he was named the NBA Western Conference Player of the Week for the 11th time in his career.

The 27-year-old center averaged 34.8 points, 17.3 rebounds and 8.5 assists while shooting 67.1% from the field to lead Denver to a 3-1 record for the week of March 28 to April 3. Sunday’s win over the Lakers lifted the Nuggets into fifth place in the Western Conference.

For the season, Jokic is averaging career highs in points (26.8) and rebounds (13.7), and is eighth in the NBA with 8.0 assists per game. He also leads the NBA in triple-doubles (19) and with 76 in his career, he is two behind Hall of Famer Wilt Chamberlain for sixth most in league history.

Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, left, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Sunday, April 3, 2022, in Los Angeles.
Mark J. Terrill/AP

The honor pushes the All-Star center past Carmelo Anthony (10) into sole possession of most NBA weekly awards in franchise history. This is the second time this season the reigning league MVP has won the award. He was also the NBA Western Conference Player of the Month for January.

Atlanta guard Trae Young won this week’s Eastern Conference honor. Coincidentally, Young also won the award the same week Jokic did earlier in the season.

Peyton Manning: Russell Wilson brings “unique” skills, leadership to Broncos

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning shake hands before a coin flip before an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014, in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson/AP

There are few people who can relate to what new Broncos quarterback Russell Wilson has experienced over the past decade in general and the last month in particular.

Success with the team that drafted him. … Multiple Super Bowl appearances and at least one championship. … Gaining comfort as the face of an entire franchise. … Regular trips to the playoffs. … And leaving his original team.

But Peyton Manning can. Ten years ago, Manning went through the same thing.

“I’ve talked to Russell a number of times and we’ve had conversations about some of the things that helped me in my transition to a different team that I think can apply to anybody making the jump, especially after being in a place for a long time,” Manning said last week in a phone interview with The Denver Post to promote his Sweetens Cove bourbon brand. “(I’ve had) conversations Coach (Nathaniel) Hackett as well about some of those things., maybe some do’s and don’ts that helped me and can certainly apply and Russell can hit the ground running here in his first year.”

In this Aug. 18, 2012, file photo, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) shakes hands with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) following an NFL football preseason game in Denver.
Jack Dempsey/AP

In March 2012, after missing the entire ’11 season with a neck injury, Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts to make way for top overall pick Andrew Luck. The Broncos won the Manning sweepstakes and he capped his Pro Football Hall of Fame career with two more Super Bowl appearances (one win) and a 45-12 regular-season record over four years.

Last month, the Seattle Seahawks traded Wilson to the Broncos. If the second stop of his NFL career is similarly successful, the package of three players and five draft picks will be worth it.

Read more via The Denver Post.

Researchers have found a new plant in Colorado’s High Country: the ‘funky thistle’

Botany student Austin Rosen holds a funky thistle during an expedition to Mount Sherman in 2020.
Provided by Jennifer Ackerfield

In the strange landscape of Colorado’s high alpine tundra, most life stays small to survive. Tiny wildflowers spring from meager soil, accompanied by mosses and lichens adapted to the thin air and blistering cold. But bursting from scree slopes in the high Rockies of central Colorado grows a mighty thistle, often nearly 3 feet tall, topped by a dense head of fuzzy yellow flowers.

It has a new name: the funky thistle.

The thistle was one of two described as a distinct species for the first time in a recent study by Jennifer Ackerfield, who heads the natural history collection at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Named for Ackerfield’s botany mentor Vicki Funk, the thistle and its cousin Cirsium culebraensis, could help researchers understand how climate change is altering Colorado’s ecology.

“If you’ve seen the funky thistle, you’ll never forget it,” Ackerfield said. It stands out on the barren landscape above treeline, particularly when its wooly flowers bloom from late July to early August. Bumblebees often nestle into its fur-like heads for warmth overnight, and pikas — small high-mountain mammals — can be seen scurrying back to their burrows with mouthfuls of the thistle’s spiny leaves.

But for more than 150 years, the funky thistle was lumped in with the mountain thistle, a more common and widespread variety. The first specimens were collected in 1862 by botanist Charles Parry, whose examples, once dried out for preservation by another researcher, became hard to distinguish from the mountain thistle, and remained mislabeled in collections for decades.

Read more via the Colorado Sun.

Jokic has triple-double, Nuggets top reeling Nets

DENVER — Nikola Jokic had 27 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, and the Denver Nuggets beat Brooklyn 124-104 on Sunday to extend the Nets’ losing streak to eight games.

Jokic has an NBA-best 14 triple-doubles this season. He scored 23 points in the second and third quarters when Denver went from trailing by seven to leading by 21.

The Nuggets held Brooklyn to 29 points in the second half to end a three-game skid.

“We rebounded better in the second half, we made them take tough shots. The defense was much, much better,” Jokic said.

Will Barton had 21 points and Aaron Gordon had 17 points and nine rebounds in his return from a two-game absence.

Nets guard James Harden missed his second straight game with left hamstring tightness. Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said the team is being cautious with the former MVP.

Nash was asked before the game if it’s accurate the team won’t trade Harden before Thursday’s deadline and gave a definitive answer.

“Yes, that’s correct,” he said.

Kyrie Irving finished with 27 points and 11 assists, and Cam Thomas had 20 for Brooklyn. The losing streak is the longest since the Nets lost seven in a row from Dec. 26, 2019, to Jan. 7, 2020. They finished 0-5 on the trip.

“The common thread is not having everyone and us finding ways to get better,” Patty Mills said. “It has been tough but no excuses. We’ve got to hang our hat on our ability to rely on each other.”

Brooklyn continues to play without Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Nic Claxton due to injuries, and Joe Harris has not played since Nov. 14 with an ankle injury.

The mounting injuries have contributed to the Nets falling into the first play-in position in the Eastern Conference.

“We’re not going to panic, there’s still plenty of games after the all-star break when Kevin gets back,” Nash said. “Hopefully have Kevin and James. You’re talking about five guys. That’s your starting lineup, potentially.”

Avalanche, Huskies honor 11-year-old hockey player from Eagle

Lewis Browning, 11, of Eagle, is remembered at an NHL hockey game on Friday. Browning was killed in after being struck by a car on Thursday in Lionshead.
Courtesy image

Word of the tragedy that occurred following a hockey practice in Vail on Thursday didn’t take long to reach the sport’s highest echelon.

Lewis Browning of Eagle was honored at a National Hockey League game on Friday in Denver after being hit by a vehicle and killed Thursday in Vail.

Browning, 11, was struck on the east side of the Lionshead Parking Structure on the ground level, a spokesperson from the town of Vail has confirmed.

The ground level of the structure is accessed through a one-way access gate in the structure’s East Lionshead Circle entrance; the ground level cannot be accessed through the structure’s main entrance on South Frontage Road.

An impromptu memorial has appeared near the area where Lewis Browning, 11, was killed. The ground floor of the Lionshead Parking Structure offers easy access to Dobson Ice Arena, where Browning had been practicing on Thursday.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

An initial investigation by police shows no signs of careless driving, according to the news release issued Thursday. No report was available as of Sunday as Vail police were still investigating the incident, a town spokesperson confirmed in an email.

Browning was leaving the Dobson Ice Arena in Vail on Thursday. The east side of the Lionshead Parking Structure provides convenient access to the rink via the parking structure’s ground level entrance on East Lionshead Circle.

Flowers, hockey sticks and jerseys, posters and notes to Lewis now adorn the area near where Browning was struck.

Items honoring Lewis Browning line the wall in the Lionshead Parking Structure near the location where the 11-year-old Eagle boy was struck by a vehicle and killed on Thursday.
John LaConte/Vail Daily

Browning was a goalie for the local Vail Mountaineers, an under-12 hockey team.

Many of the Browning’s teammates and coaches with the Vail Mountaineers were at the Colorado Avalanche game on Friday where Browning’s memory was honored with a moment of reflection.

Browning’s picture was displayed on the Jumbotron, and below the image the ice was lit in the colors of the Colorado state flag and the players on the ice bowed their heads in remembrance.

The announcer told the crowd about the incident that occurred in Vail on Thursday and what Browning meant to the entire Colorado hockey community.

“Lewis’ spirit exemplified love for the game of hockey, his teammates, and the Avalanche,” he said.

Huskies retire No. 30

The Battle Mountain boys hockey team also memorialized Browning Friday by starting its game with empty nets, running the clock for 30 seconds in honor of Browning’s No. 30. The Huskies program also retired the No. 30.

The Huskies split their weekend home games, losing to Chaparral 4-2 on Friday before defeating Resurrection Christian 1-0 in overtime on Saturday. The Huskies moved to 5-3 on the season and 2-1 in league play.

“I thought we battled really well,” coach Derek Byron said about facing the top-tier 5A competition.

“It was obviously a pretty hard weekend for everybody with the passing of Lewis,” Byron said, noting that many of his athletes knew Browning. “So, it was a pretty emotional weekend, and it was good just to play well.”

The No. 2 (in class 4A) Huskies entered Friday’s contest against the No. 8 (in 5A) Wolverines riding a three-game winning streak. During that stretch, they had outscored their opponents 22-4. On Saturday against Resurrection Christian, however, the Huskies needed to rely on defense and the stellar play of goalie Logan Gremmer.

“Our goalie was outstanding,” Byron said of Gremmer. “He played lights out.”

Byron said it was an emotional weekend.

“It was definitely difficult for the entire community,” he said.

The Huskies play Summit at home on Jan. 21 at 3:30 p.m. before traveling to Glenwood Springs for another league game on Jan. 22.

—Ryan Sederquist contributed reporting

AFC West rivals Chargers, Broncos face must-win situations

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Justin Rex)

LOS ANGELES — Two weeks ago the Los Angeles Chargers were feeling pretty secure about getting to the postseason for the first time since 2018.

After two straight losses though, their challenge is more formidable going into Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos.

“Now, it’s now or never. You don’t want to put it in everybody else’s hands; you want it to be in your hands,” Chargers defensive tackle Linval Joseph said. “We have to go out there and do what we have to do. We have to go out there and get it done this Sunday.”

The Chargers (8-7) got off to a 4-1 start under first-year coach Brandon Staley but have won consecutive games only once since mid-October. They have dropped their past two —a 34-28 overtime loss to Kansas City on Dec. 16 and an inexplicable 41-29 defeat at Houston last Sunday.

Staley’s message to his team this week has been about getting back to being consistent in practice and trying to approach things as normal as possible despite the evolving roster changes because of COVID-19.

“You have to trust your plans and how you prepare. I think that’s what our approach is going to be this week, putting the focus on us and giving the Broncos their full respect by preparing each day the best that we know how. Regardless of the circumstances, treat each week like it has a life of its own,” Staley said.

The Chargers could get back into a wild-card spot with a win and losses by Miami to Tennessee and Baltimore to the Los Angeles Rams.

“Playoff games start now, and that’s the mindset,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said.

Denver (7-8) has won four of its past five against its division rival, including 28-13 on Nov. 28.

The Broncos started the season with three straight wins but have dropped three of their past four as their playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. They need a win over the Chargers, coupled with victories by the Rams, Titans and Browns to go into next week’s regular-season finale against Kansas City with even a chance of getting back to the postseason for the first time since 2015, when they won their third Super Bowl title.

Another defeat would assure the Broncos of their fifth straight season under .500. Third-year coach Vic Fangio was on the hot seat going into the year and has tried to deflect talk about his job status during the latest slump.

“I’m not worried about do I have to win the next two to secure the job? That’s totally not in my frame of thought right now,” he said. “We’re going to do anything and everything we can to win this game this week.”

Denver Broncos quarterback Drew Lock (3) hands the ball off to running back Melvin Gordon (25) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sunday, Dec. 26, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

COVID-19 CONCERNS

The Broncos canceled practice for the first time this season Thursday because of COVID-19 concerns related to testing. Offensive tackle Bobbie Massie was added on Thursday while wide receiver Tim Patrick and safety Caden Sterns were placed on the list Wednesday. Nose tackle Mike Purcell has a chance of coming off after entering protocols Monday.

The Chargers have nine on the list, including five starters. The biggest area of concern is special teams with kicker Dustin Hopkins and long snapper Matt Overton both in protocols.

CAMEO GLOW

Drew Lock said he got a jump-start on his preparation for the Chargers through the cameo he had against them in Denver’s 28-13 win at home on Nov. 28 when Teddy Bridgewater was briefly sidelined with a bruised shin — even though he was just 4 of 7 for 26 yards and threw an interception in that game.

“I’m excited to be able to dive in as a starter again against a really good defense,” Lock said. “There’s a lot that goes into the prep every single week, but it does help to play them a little bit, kind of have a feel for who they are and how to attack them the second time around.”

BOUNCE BACK FOR HERBERT?

Chargers Pro Bowl QB Justin Herbert is second in the league with 4,394 passing yards and tied for fourth with 33 touchdown passes. But he is tied for the league lead in a category he wish he wasn’t at the top of: pick 6s.

Herbert and the Rams’ Matthew Stafford have each thrown three. Herbert was picked off twice by Denver’s Patrick Surtain II, including one that went 70 yards for a TD.

“I think we’re always learning, always trying to develop and get better. It is tough. There are going to be growing pains,” Herbert said. “I think the great thing about our team, about our coaching staff is that we’re all working together and that we’re all selfless. Everyone is trying to get better. As long as we’re doing that, good things will happen. It might not go our way all the time, but to have those guys battle every week, there’s no place I’d rather be.”

Herbert needs 270 yards on Sunday to reach 9,000. At 31 games, he would be the second-fastest player to reach that mark.

GROUND GAME GROUNDED

The Broncos’ usually reliable 1-2 punch of Melvin Gordon and rookie Javonte Williams looks to get going again after the Raiders shut down Denver’s ground game last week, holding the Broncos to 18 yards on 16 carries, including minus-4 for Gordon, his worst game of his career.

“We just have to do a better job of blocking up front, starting with the O-line, tight ends and the receivers,” Fangio said. “We’ve got to be able to get our running backs and our good runners through the line of scrimmage to where they can make something happen. Part of that, too, is to get the passing game going to where there’s a good mix of run and pass and get the defense not knowing what might be coming next.”

Denver rushed for 147 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry the first time around against the Chargers. Los Angeles has the league’s fourth-worst run defense, allowing 140.3 yards per game. Houston rushed for 189 yards last week, marking the fifth time this season LA has allowed at least 180.