Peyton Manning at the line of scrimmage during the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 31-23. (Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)

Peyton Manning Leads Broncos To AFC West Crown

It seems like week after week, Peyton Manning reaches a new milestone.

In Sunday’s 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Manning hit Demaryius Thomas in the end zone to give him 28 touchdowns on the year, or the most in a single season in Denver Broncos’ history (John Elway and Jake Plummer had 27 in one season). He wasn’t done at 28. He found Thomas about five minutes later for his 29th touchdown of the season.

With 27 completions, Manning also passed Dan Marino for the second-most completions (4,986) in NFL history. (Manning went 27-for-38 for 242 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception against the Bucs). Also, the win marked the 9th winning streak of seven or more games that Manning has been a part of, passing Tom Brady for the most in NFL history.

Even after a full year off from football, Manning is still Manning, defenses are still perplexed by his uncanny ability to dissect them, and he’s still simply just working with what he has.

On Sunday, longtime favorite target Brandon Stokley sat out with a hip injury. After many unsuccessful plays going three-wide, the Broncos went with a two tight-end set where Jacob Tamme was the beneficiary.

“Like we said from the beginning of the year, the way that we play tight ends, and the different personnel groupings we have, it’s going to vary game to game, Tamme said following the game. “You really don’t have much of an idea. Different games flow different ways. Obviously, with [WR] Brandon [Stokley] being out tonight, guys needed to step up, and we did a pretty good job of that.”

Tamme was the second leading receiver of the day with 9 catches for 89 yards. He was also the most targeted receiver of the day with Manning throwing to him 13 times.

Meanwhile, Thomas led the team with 8 catches for 99 yards and 2 touchdowns. He tied his career-high in touchdown receptions.

“It’s my first time having a quarterback like this,” Thomas said. “It’s great. You get better and better, and you see him getting better and better. You want to get better for him, because you know he’s going to give you a chance where it’s tough for defenders to get to the ball.”

It’s not just the act of passing and catching that has morphed this offense. It’s the way Manning’s presence has transformed the entire team into a well-oiled machine.

“We see him doing stuff and we just do it because of what he does,” Thomas said. “I think it’s just us doing it because we want to be like him. He’s a great quarterback and he’s successful in the league. If you follow somebody like Peyton, you can be good in the league.”

Thomas speaks of imitation and we all know how that relates to flattery. However, the Broncos have found that listening, too, is a form of flattery. It’s listening to Manning that has made the Broncos 9-3 and Kings of the AFC West.

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