=== Broncos handle Buccaneers to clinch AFC West ===
Denver, CO (Sports Network) - Peyton Manning had three touchdown passes and
the Denver Broncos clinched the AFC West with a 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay
Manning went 27-for-38 with 242 yards and an interception as the Broncos (9-3)
won their seventh straight game and clinched their division for the second
straight year and 12th time in franchise history. Also, Manning moved past Dan
Marino for second place all-time for completions and now has 4,986 for his
"The main goal coming into today was to get the win," said Manning. "We knew
we were facing a hot team today and that we were going to have our hands full.
That being said, it feels really good to win the division and we'll continue
to improve as we head to the playoffs."
Demaryius Thomas totaled eight catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns, while
Knowshon Moreno had 69 yards on 20 carries and added four catches for 14 yards
in the win.
"At the end of the day everyone is rooting for that world championship," said
Broncos head coach John Fox. "We still have a quarter of the football season
left. It's a great accomplishment, but let's see what happens the rest of the
Josh Freeman went 18-for-39 with 242 yards, two touchdowns and an
interception, with Mike Williams and Dallas Clark each catching a scoring pass
in the loss for the Buccaneers (6-6), who have dropped their past two games.
The loss by Tampa Bay allowed Atlanta to clinch the NFC South. The Falcons had
defeated the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
"We're still looking at it as a one-game season and there's a lot of football
to be played," Williams said about his team's playoff chances. "We're going to
try and do our part to get a couple wins and see what happens after that."
The Broncos trailed by three points in the third quarter, but found the end
zone on three straight drives during the frame to take the lead.
After an exchange of punts to start the quarter, Denver got the ball near
midfield and needed just four plays to get into the end zone. A 16-yard pass
interference call on Tampa was followed by an 8-yard catch in the back of the
end zone by Thomas for a 14-10 lead with 9:21 to play in the period.
Following another short possession from the Bucs, the Broncos got the ball
back near midfield once more. Manning needed just seven plays to get in the
end zone and again went to Thomas, who came up with a 10-yard score for a
21-10 advantage with 4:39 to play in the third.
It didn't take long for Denver for to score again, and this time its defense
got in on the action. Von Miller made a leaping grab of a Freeman pass and
scampered down the left sideline for a 26-yard score and a 28-10 lead with
3:56 to play in the third quarter. It was the first interception of his
With a drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters, Tampa finally stopped
Denver's momentum with a 50-yard field goal by Connor Barth that made it a
28-13 game on the first play of the final period.
The Broncos, though, killed that momentum with a 14-play, 68-yard drive that
ate up over seven minutes of the clock and was capped by a 31-yard field goal
from Matt Prater for a 31-13 lead with 7:36 to play.
A 55-yard field goal from Barth with 3:23 to play got it back to a two-score
game and following a three-and-out from the Broncos, the Bucs got in the end
zone when Freeman found Williams in the end zone from five yards
out to bring Tampa Bay within 31-23 with 2:33 to play.
Denver, though, recovered the onsides kick and was able to get the first down
to kill off the rest of the clock.
Following a quick three-and-out from Tampa Bay on the opening possession of
the game, Denver got the ball back at its own 35 and went to work.
Two short completions and an illegal contact penalty on Tampa Bay moved the
ball across midfield, and Manning followed with two more completions to get
the ball down to the 25. A Moreno run of 12 yards later on moved the ball to
the 1-yard line and the next play saw Manning hook up with Mitch Unrein, who
normally plays at defensive tackle, for a score and a 7-0 lead with 8:47 left
in the first quarter.
Tampa Bay followed with a nine-play, 61-yard drive that saw Barth hit a 31-
yard field goal to make it a 7-3 game. The big play of the drive was a 26-yard
catch by Doug Martin that got the ball across midfield.
After forcing a three-and-out from the Broncos, the Buccaneers got the ball
back at their own 30 and the second play saw Freeman and Williams hook up for
a 40-yard gain down to the Denver 23. Three plays later, Freeman found Clark
in the end zone on an 11-yard score and a 10-7 lead with 14 seconds left in
the first quarter.
Denver crossed midfield on each of its next two touches, but had to punt both
times and the game went into halftime with Tampa Bay holding a three-point
Brett Favre is the all-time lead for completions with 6,300 ... It's the first
seven-game winning streak for Denver since the team opened the 1998 season
with 13 straight wins ... Tampa Bay hosts Philadelphia next week ... Denver
takes its winning streak to Oakland, where it will play on Thursday ... Denver
has won six of the eight meetings with Tampa Bay, including the past three
12/03 00:33:59 ET