The Broncos clinched their second consecutive AFC West Championship on Sunday, as they held off a Tampa Bay rally to win 31-23, making it 7 wins in a row for Denver. Unlike last year, when the Broncos lost 3 straight to finish 8-8 and clinched due to a Raider loss, the Broncos this year wrapped up the division after only 12 games, which is a testament to not only the impact of Peyton Manning, but how simply atrocious the rest of the division has been.
After a Buccaneer punt to open the game, Manning and the offense made quick work of the Tampa defense, as after a Ronde Barber pass interference kept the drive alive, Peyton hit defensive lineman Mitch Unrein from one yard out to give the Broncos an early touchdown advantage. The Bucs managed a short field goal to cut the deficit to 4, and after a Bronco punt, Josh Freeman hit Mike Williams for 40 yards, setting Tampa up in Bronco territory. Freeman finished off the drive by hooking up with one of Manning’s former favorite targets, former Colt tight end Dallas Clark to give the Bucs their first lead of the game at 10-7, which is where the score would stand after one. The second quarter was a series of defensive domination and punting, as neither offense was able to get untracked, and the game went into intermission with the Bucs still up by 3.
The third quarter is where the Broncos would take the game by the throat and dominate. After punts by both teams to start the second half, a nifty Trindon Holliday punt return set the Broncos up with the ball in Buccaneer territory. Manning and co. made quick work of the short field, as Manning hit Demaryious Thomas with an 8 yard strike, regaining the lead for Denver. After forcing a 3 & out, the Bronco offense picked up where it left off, as Manning again hit Thomas for the second time in the quarter to give Denver an 11 point edge. Two plays later, while facing heavy pressure Freeman was picked off by Von Miller, who took it 26 yards to the house for his first career touchdown, blowing the game open and giving the Broncos a commanding 18 point lead. Just like that, in 5:30 of game play, Denver saw it’s 10-7 deficit turn into a 28-10 advantage. The defense went right back to work, as they got the Bucs off the field without allowing a first down for the 4th consecutive possession, and just went it looked like the Broncos were able to really pour it on, Manning threw a terrible, wobbly pass into triple coverage, giving very slight life back to Tampa Bay.
The Bucs capped off their first drive of the 4th with a field goal, which the Denver offense matched on their next possession, retaining their lead of 18 points. After holding the Bucs off on 4th down, the Broncos got great field position inside the Bucs 40, but the offense went 3 & out and Matt Prater missed from 47 yards out. The Bucs added another field goal, this time on a 55 yarder from Connor Barth, his second of the quarter from 50 yards out, to trim the Bronco lead to 15. The Broncos tried running the clock out, but had to give it back to the Tampa offense, which responded with a touchdown to turn what was once a blowout into a 31-23 ballgame. The suspense was short lived however, as the Broncos recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock, locking up their 9th win of the season.
Due to the patheticness of the rest of the division, Denver became one of three teams to have locked up their division already. As for my players of the game, I’m giving out two game balls. My first one goes to Demaryious Thomas, who continued his impressive season with 8 receptions, 99 yards, and 2 touchdowns. My next one goes out to Von Miller, who legitimized his Defensive Player of the Year candidacy with another game changing performance, recording 5 tackles, a sack, and a pick six for his first career TD. The Broncos don’t get much time to rest or celebrate, as they travel to Oakland to take on the Raiders on Thursday night.
About the Author
Written by Alex Summers
Lifelong sports fan, love the NFL, and big fan of a basketball and baseball