Another day, another record-setting performance for the Broncos (11-2). Another year, another playoff berth for John Fox’s squad.
Last week, Eric Decker set a new team mark for touchdown receptions in a game. Sunday, in the Broncos’ 51-28 (Gamebook) win over the visiting Titans (5-8), they established new marks for both their team and the league, clinching their third straight playoff berth along the way.
Matt Prater hit a 64-yard field goal to break the record for the longest in league history, and the Broncos racked up 39 first downs, their most in franchise history.
Their 515 points are the most of any Broncos team; the prior record of 501 was set by the 1998 tite squad.
In Fox's first game back after having undergone open heart surgery, Peyton Manning threw for 397 yards and four scores, Denver piled up 551 yards of offense, and Eric Decker topped the 100-yard receiving mark for the second straight week.
Tennessee exploded out of the gate with a five-play, 73-yard scoring drive, with Justin Hunter accounting for 67 of those yards on two receptions. Shonn Greene punched it in from a yard out, and the Titans took the early 7-0 lead.
It took Denver 13 plays and two wise 4th-and-1 decisions from John Fox to even things up, but they did so. The drive covered 74 yards, with Peyton Manning hitting Wes Welker on a one-yard sprintout pass.
Welker’s tenth receiving touchdown made these Broncos the first team in league history to sport four players with at least ten scores (Julius and Demaryius Thomas, Knowshon Moreno).
Matt Prater’s ensuing kickoff only made it as far as the Tennessee two-yard line, and recently signed return man Leon Washington took it back 95 yards. On first down, Chris Johnson scored on a three-yard run, and the Titans pulled back ahead, 14-7.
Faced with the Broncos’ third 4th-and-1 of the day, Fox opted to punt from the Titans 45.
Denver forced a three-and-out, but a booming punt by Brett Kern and illegal block set the Broncos back to their own 42.
Two different times, the Broncos momentarily looked to have scored the tying touchdown, but replay reviews proved otherwise. On the first, Eric Decker was ruled down at the two-yard-line on a throw from the 26, and then a potential seven-yard touchdown pass to Welker was ruled to have hit the ground.
Denver opted to kick, this time settling for a 25-yard field goal to draw within 14-10. With seven yards to gain, this was a reasonable choice by Fox.
However, kicking from the plus-40 with just three yards to gain, as he opted to do on the Broncos’ next possession?
Utterly, entirely unconscionable.
Tennessee gained back the 29 yards of field position in a blink, and a wiser, bolder call by Mike Munchak on 4th-and-1 from the Titans 49 was rewarded with a 28-yard touchdown run by Greene to cap an eight-play, 89-yard scoring drive.
Fortunately, Manning & Co. didn’t allow Fox another opportunity to kick the ball away on their next possession, which consumed 81 yards in ten plays. A gorgeous eight-yard throw by Manning and equally picturesque footwork from Julius Thomas brought the Broncos to within 21-17.
They got the ball back with under a minute remaining, enough time for Manning to get them to the Tennessee 46.
That set up Prater with a chance to break the all-time record, and his kick just cleared the crossbar from 64 yards out.
At halftime, Denver had closed the gap to 21-20.
As is their habit, the Broncos promptly took the second-half kickoff back 80 yards, needing just six plays and 3:08 to do so.
Manning hit Demaryius Thomas on a beautiful four-yard throw that called to mind their connection versus Tampa Bay last season, and Denver had their first lead of the day at 27-21.
Three snaps later, Von Miller tipped a pass that Terrance Knighton pulled down and returned (two yards) to the Tennessee 43.
Montee Ball gained 33 yards on three straight carries, and five plays later, Moreno punched it in from the one.
It appeared the blowout was on at 34-21, but the Titans stormed back with a quick six-play, 80-yard drive, and Hunter’s second touchdown of the game - this one a 41-yard catch - made the score 34-28.
Although the Broncos looked like they would respond with an 80-yard march of their own, they came up a yard short, and Fox again opted to kick, this time a 19-yard field goal to go up by 37-28.
To recap, Denver has one of the GOATs at QB in PMFM, but chose to punt from the plus-40 and kick from the one.
Welcome back, Foxball.
Thankfully, Von Miller again came up big, blowing up the Titans’ next drive by stripping Chris Johnson in Tennessee territory. Mike Adams recovered at the 32, and the Broncos were in business.
Manning followed three plays later with another gorgeous throw, this time a 20-yarder to Decker for a 44-28 advantage.
After a three-and-out by Tennessee, Denver piled on another touchdown, with Ball's five-yard run putting the finishing touch on the ten-play, 49-yard drive, and on the Broncos' blowout.
Denver will have no time to enjoy the prolific win, as they turn around to host the Chargers in their home finale on Thursday night. San Diego (6-7) handed the Giants (5-8) a 37-14 beatdown to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Indy (8-5) clinches the AFCS title with Denver's victory, despite having lost to Cincinnati (9-4) in a 42-28 shootout.
- Wes Welker left in the second quarter with a concussion, his second in four weeks
- Champ Bailey was held out for the 10th time in 13 games
- The Broncos did not fumble, turn the ball over, or allow a sack; it's only their second game without a turnover (Philly)
- 551 yards is a new season high for the Broncos and is their fourth best figure of all time; the franchise record is 567, set in the 2004 loss during which Michael Vick disemboweled Denver
- The Broncos have hit the half-century mark three times now this season (52 vs Philly, 51 at Dallas); they had only done so once prior, way back in 1963
- Knowshon Moreno (14 carries, 78 yards, 1 TD) and Montee Ball (15, 77, 1) were pretty much statistical twinsies
- Denver ran 91 plays to Tennessee's 48, gained 551 yards to their 254, and outpossessed them 39:19 to 20:41
- Six different Broncos scored touchdowns: Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, Moreno, Eric Decker, and Ball
- Over the past two weeks, Decker has 16 catches, 291 yards, and five touchdowns
- If Decker scores twice more this season, Denver will have five players with at least ten touchdowns
- Malik Jackson piled up three tackles for loss and two QB hits
- Von Miller had three tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a TFL, and a pass defensed (which became the fat guy interception by Terrance Knighton)
- Manning has 45 touchdowns on the season, just five shy of Tom Brady's single-season record; he's on pace for 55
- Peyton has thrown for at least four touchdowns in seven different games this year; he never threw more than three last season
- The Broncos made the playoffs three years in a row from 2003 to 2005, again from 2011 to 2013, and never in between
- Manning has led his teams to the playoffs 13 times, moving him ahead of Brett Favre for the most of any quarterback in NFL history
- Videos: Highlights from BTV and NFLN, and of Peyton Manning; John Fox's locker room speech, postgame presser, and pregame interview on NFLN; Peyton Manning and several others speak afterward
- Joan Niesen and Jeff Legwold recap the game
- Regarding the meme that says Manning can't throw in the cold, here's what he had to say: Whoever wrote that narrative can shove that where the sun don't shine
- The 4th Down Bot says the Broncos should have gone for it on six of the seven fourth downs they faced (they went three times, converting every time)