Good Morning, Broncos fans! The specialness of YOUR 2012 Denver Broncos is now far beyond Peyton Manning.
This has become a team that scores 30 points when it's hardly running on all cylinders, as it has shown for the past three weeks (and four of the past five). These Broncos score 30 and win easily - even when John Fox¹ and the referees² do their best to make things closer.
Denver won its fifth straight game, by a 30-23 score over visiting San Diego (Gamebook, ANS box score), and now owns a commanding three-game lead in the AFCW over those same Chargers, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker in the extremely unlikely case of a tie at season's end.
Although a one-score game, yesterday's outcome wasn't ever truly in doubt - even if Peyton's pick-six³ and Matt Prater's subsequent clanger from 55 yardsª gave it something of a déjà vu feeling early on.
But it wasn't the three touchdown passes that Manning is usually good for (for the sixth time this season, a new Broncos record) that made it so, his 270 yards passing, or 92.4 QB rating (ho hum).
Rather, it was the utter dominance of the Broncos defense - which has allowed just 15 conversions on 69 third downs (21.7%) over the five-game winning streak - that said the Chargers and Philip Rivers never stood a chance.
Von Miller (six tackles - including two for a loss - three sacks, one QB hit, two forced fumbles, a ST tackle for good measure, and 10.4 Expected Points Added) and Wesley Woodyard (eight tackles - one for a loss - a QB hit, another interception, a pass defensed, a fumble recovery, and 13.5 EPA) were again otherworldly stat sheet stuffers, and frankly, we'll be going deep into the thesaurus for superlatives if this remarkable pairing keeps their act going.
D.J. Williams made an impressive return (four tackles, including one for a drive-killing loss), and what were we saying a couple months ago about Denver's linebacking depth woes? As important as Keith Brooking's play has been, the addition of Williams to Miller and Woodyard gives the Broncos an absolutely devastating trio.
The secondary continues to lock it down for Denver, as San Diego failed to come up with a play longer than 13 yards until there were just 20 minutes remaning in the game, and a 15-point Broncos advantage on the scoreboard.
Barring injury to Manning or Miller (Elway forbid), this team is going to win 12 or 13 games, and have a first-round bye come playoffs. That is, unless John Fox continues this dangerous game of taking Manning & Co. off the field on 4th and 1.
¹ Not that Foxy has ever been known as a riverboat gambler, but when did he attend the Marvin Lewis School of Covering Your Ass and Coaching Meekly at all Times? With PMFM at QB, any 4th and 1 from the minus-40 and in should be heavily considered, and this team should almost never be kicking field goals at that down and distance from inside plus-territory. At least he wisely deferred possession to start the game, although the special teams should have been better prepared for the second-half-opening onside kick.
² The replay confirmation of Danario Alexander's so-called touchdown was an absolute joke, as our good friend Calvin Johnson was just telling us. It will be a shock if the league office fails to acknowledge this today.
³ Manning has now thrown two pick-sixes, and Matt Willis was the target each time. Although yesterday's was likely more a great defensive play than the fault of either QB or WR, it raises the question of why Willis and Lance Ball (seven targets and two carries) were featured so heavily early on in the game plan. With Denver's array of playmakers, and San Diego's poor group of corners, we'll call this overthinking and overcoaching on the part of Mike McCoy & Co.; put the ball into the hands of your top receivers, backs, and tight ends - not into those of your fourth-string wideout and third-string back.
ª 55 yards is long by NFL standards, but Prater has to make that kick if he's truly worth the salary and reputation he's been bestowed - especially at home in the Mile High air.
Houston (9-1) narrowly avoided disaster at the hands of Jacksonville (1-9), winning 43-37 on an overtime touchdown by Andre Johnson, after the Jaguars had led by 14 points early in the fourth quarter. The Broncos likely needed a Texans loss yesterday to have any real shot at the AFC's #1 seed, what with Houston holding the head-to-head edge.
New England (7-3) has that same advantage over Denver, and they put the upstart Colts (6-4) firmly in their place with a 59-24 blowout. But the Patriots lost Rob Gronkowski to a broken forearm that will require surgery and cost him several weeks' time.
Baltimore (8-2) solidified its position as Denver's other competition for playoff seeding with a 13-10 win over the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers (6-4), but they face a tough schedule down the stretch; the Broncos will face the Ravens at M&T in a Week 15 showdown.
Oakland (3-7) and Kansas City (1-9) were each embarrassed at home on the same day the AFCW went from two-team race to one-team race. The Raiders were dispatched 38-17 by the Saints (5-5) in a game that left team owner
Lloyd Christmas Mark Davis fuming. Cincy (5-5) laid into the Chiefs with a 28-6 beatdown attended by a crowd featuring an estimated 25,000 KC fans wearing black in protest of their team's abject shittiness.
The Jets (4-6) took down the host Rams (3-6-1) in a 27-13 thrashing thanks to a rare turnover-free performance by the Sanchize, but the circus is still in town, as Bart Scott led a failed attempt at a team media boycott.
Dallas (5-5) needed 17 fourth-quarter points just to make it to overtime against the Browns (2-8), where they capped the 23-20 comeback win with a Dan Bailey FG.
Tampa Bay (6-4) will visit Denver in two weeks; they overcame an 11-point deficit in the game's final six minutes to send their game into overtime with Carolina (2-8). Josh Freeman hit Dallas Clark for a TD in the extra session, as the Bucs escaped with a 27-21 shocker.
Atlanta (9-1) beat Arizona (4-6) 23-19 despite five interceptions and zero touchdowns by so-called MVP candidate Matt Ryan.
Green Bay (7-3) scored twice inside the last two minutes of the fourth quarter for a 24-20 win that likely extinguishes any hopes for a Detroit (4-6) playoff appearance.
RG3 was nearly perfect (14-15 for four TDs and 200 yards, 84 rushing yards) in leading Washington (4-6) to a 31-6 trouncing of the visiting Eagles (3-7).
Andy Benoit, Mike Tanier, Will Brinson, Mike Silver, Peter King, Don Banks, Clark Judge, John Clayton, Jason Cole, and Alex Marvez recap the day's games, the Football Outsiders discuss them, Doug Farrar lists his best (Von Miller) and worst (Chargers offensive line) players of the day.
Updates: Andy Benoit link changed 9:27am ET; Football Outsiders link added 9:30am ET