The Denver Broncos clinched their second consecutive AFC West Championship yesterday by taking down the Buccaneers 31-23. In the process they accomplished several things that haven't been done in Denver for quite some time. It's their first back-to-back division titles since the 1986-1987 seasons, and they also won their seventh straight game which is their longest winning streak since 1998. That season ended with a Super Bowl Championship, and these Broncos have the look of a team who may be able to add to the trophy case.
Here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
- The third quarter showed how explosive this Denver team can be. They won on the scoreboard 21-0 thanks to two Peyton Manning touchdown passes and a defensive pick six. They also held Tampa to two three-and-outs and benefitted from 78 yards on punt returns. If the Broncos can play like that over 4 quarters they will beat anyone come playoff time.
- While the Denver offense once again struggled to find a rhythm early, the defense stemmed the tide and slowed Tampa until the Broncos could get it going. There is no doubt this team is led by Manning, but the defensive effort over the last few weeks has been extraordinary.
- The Broncos were up 31-13 midway through the 4th quarter when they took possession deep in Tampa territory. A score would have ended the competitive phase of the game and Denver could have coasted to the finish. John Fox decided to conservatively run the ball and settle for the field goal. In recent Matt Prater fashion, he sent the kick wide right and Denver was forced to sweat out a tight ending to the game. It's not hard to understand why a team like New England has a tendency to go for the jugular in that situation. Why deal with the stress at the end of a game? Peyton Manning was nearly unstoppable at that moment. Let him go after his fourth touchdown pass and put it out of reach. Instead, the Bucs staged a comeback and were within an onside kick of making it very interesting. Denver was also forced to leave the starters in until the end and expose them to unnecessary injury risk. Playoff games are tough to close out when you take the ultra-conservative route. Hopefully Denver learns that lesson soon.
- Tampa is bush league for diving at the legs of the opponent's offensive line during game ending kneel downs. If the league is serious about coming down on injuries they should put an end to the pathetic practice employed by Greg Schiano and the Buccaneers. That is simply disgraceful.
- Is anyone else tired of seeing predictable running plays on 2nd-and-short situations that get stuffed? Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno ended up with 98 rushing yards combined. That's a mediocre effort, and the Bucs certainly weren't scared of the running game. Once Denver took the brakes off and let Manning throw the ball all over the field they became a force of nature. Let Manning take control and open it up!
- The Broncos defense registered only 1 sack on the day, but as expected it was credited to Von Miller. He also had 6 tackles, 1 quarterback hit and an interception return for a touchdown. Miller has shown he is a jack of all trades and should be the frontrunner for the Defensive Player of the Year Award.
- Manning finished with 3 touchdowns, a quarterback rating of 103.2, and set the franchise mark for passing touchdowns in a season with 29. He is going to shatter all the single season franchise records for a quarterback this year. Pretty impressive considering he didn't play a snap in 2011.
- Matt Prater went 1 for 2 on field goals and his miss enabled the Buccaneers to stay in the game late. For whatever reason he really struggles on kicks from 40-49 yards. Prater has now missed 5 field goals over the last 4 games and has become a liability.
- Next up is a quick road trip to play the Oakland Raiders on Thursday Night Football. The AFC West Champions will be on Display in Oakland and they will be wearing orange and blue! Go Broncos!