ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Only three players drafted in 1998 are still in the NFL, and two of them – Peyton Manning and Charles Woodson – meet this weekend when the Denver Broncos visit the winless Oakland Raiders.
Woodson famously beat out Manning for the 1997 Heisman Trophy. A few months later, Manning was the No. 1 overall draft pick and Woodson was fourth.
”We both have a great deal of respect for what each other has done in this game,” Woodson said Wednesday. ”And for both of us to still be playing 17 years later says a lot about both players and what the game means to us. He’s done some incredible things. He’s still doing incredible things in this league. … It’s fun to watch him from afar.”
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Up close, added Woodson, not so much.
Manning also praised Woodson’s longevity and current level of play.
”Charles, to be playing as well as he is as a defensive/secondary guy is pretty impressive,” Manning said. ”He’s making plays with his cover skills and kind of his ranging/roving skills, but I see him sticking his nose and shoulders in there and making tackles like he did when he was 23, 24 years old.”
The only other survivor from the class of `98 is sixth-rounder Matt Hasselbeck.
”Son of a gun,” Woodson said. ”Where is Matt Hasselbeck?”
Backing up Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.
”There’s only three of us, huh? Well, you know what, it’s a blessing to have played this long and to be one of only three from the `98 class,” Woodson said. ”I’m proud of that.”
So is Manning, who nearly teamed up with Woodson in 2013. Woodson, however, choose Oakland over Denver following his departure from Green Bay.
Since then, the Raiders are 4-20 and the Broncos 21-6.
Still, Woodson swears he has no regrets.
”You can’t think like that,” he said. ”My decision was made to come back and play for the Oakland Raiders and all of my energy and focus have been on trying to make this team better and trying to help turn this organization around.”
Woodson said despite their 0-8 record, the Raiders remain optimistic.
”We’re not allowing our record to dictate how we come in and approach the game,” he said.
Neither are the Broncos (6-2).
”What I see is how we played last week, which is not our best,” tight end Jacob Tamme said of Denver’s surprisingly decisive loss at New England. ”We take a long, hard look at it. We all know that we need to be better and that’s what we’re focused on.
”The Oakland Raiders, I get tired of saying it, but the records don’t matter,” Tamme added. ”You look at their front seven on defense, they’re as good as anybody.”
Tight end Julius Thomas, who leads the league with 10 TD catches, said the Broncos are a resilient bunch and ”we’re not going to let one night of things not going our way set us off of what we’ve been working toward.”
The Broncos have typically bounced back from disheartening losses. They haven’t lost consecutive games with Manning around since his second and third games in a Broncos uniform in 2012.
”Can it be a good thing? Yeah, if you respond,” Manning said. ”You’d like not to get slapped in the face to get refocused. You would like to be focused every single week. If it happens, it’s about trying not to repeat it, trying to improve. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to learn from it and be better for it.”
The Raiders’ task isn’t just bouncing back from one bad game but a season’s worth of blown opportunities.
Woodson knows just the tonic.
”A signature moment,” he said.
A win over the heavily favored Broncos this weekend would certainly qualify.
Notes: RB Montee Ball said he’s lost 12 pounds and is down to 212 as he works his way back from a strained groin that’s sidelined him for a month. He said he realizes he’s lost his starting job to Ronnie Hillman but vowed he’ll fight to win it back and the weight loss will help him hit the holes more decisively.
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