Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Denver Broncos: Mile-High Winners and Losers
There were a number of feats accomplished by the Broncos in their victory. Peyton Manning passed Dan Marino for second on the all-time completions list. Manning also threw three touchdown passes on the day. Coming into the game, Manning needed just two touchdowns to surpass John Elway and Jake Plummer for the franchise's single-season record for passing touchdowns.
Outside of Manning's statistical feats, Denver clinched its second straight AFC West title. It is the first time since the 1986 and 1987 seasons that the Broncos have accomplished this. It also just Denver's fourth AFC West title since John Elway retired following the 1998 Super Bowl season.
With a 9-3 record, Denver is assured of a winning season. It is the franchise's first since 2006.
The Broncos started off this game slow, going into halftime down 10-7. However, they dominated the third quarter by outscoring the Bucs 21-0 before Tampa Bay made a late rally to make the score look respectable.
We learned plenty from this game—let's focus on who emerged as the winners and losers...
Peyton Manning should be a winner just about every week.
Manning led the Broncos to their seventh consecutive victory, led them to their second straight AFC West title, passed Dan Marino for second on the career completions list and broke the single-season touchdown record previously held by his boss, John Elway.
Not bad for one game, huh?
Peyton had a slow start, but he made up for it in the second half. He went 27-of-38 overall for 242 yards and three touchdowns. Manning had touchdown throws to Mitch Unrein and Demaryius Thomas, with Thomas catching eight balls. Jacob Tamme had nine catches from Peyton.
No matter how slow some of these starts are by the offense, because of Manning's veteran savvy, they always seem to get it going early enough in the second half to give the Broncos a victory.
In the end, isn't that all that matters?
Winner: Peyton Manning
It's clear that Demaryius Thomas has become Peyton Manning's go-to guy.
Thomas had eight receptions for 99 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-23 victory. Coming into this game, Thomas led the team with 61 receptions for 1,015 yards. Although teammate Eric Decker had been the more popular target in the red zone, with eight touchdowns, Thomas caught up to Decker in this game by grabbing two touchdowns to put the Broncos up for good.
Thomas' two touchdown receptions in the third quarter gave the Broncos a 21-10 lead and jump-started their 21-0 scoring run in the second half that ultimately gave Denver the game.
Thomas has a penchant for big plays, and this game was no different.
Winner: Demaryius Thomas
It's hard to cite "losers" in a game where the Broncos won and clinched the AFC West title.
However, because the article is titled "Winners and Losers," there has to be somebody here listed by default, and Eric Decker is that guy.
Decker was basically invisible all game, as he only had two receptions for 17 yards. Obviously he was overshadowed by teammate Demaryius Thomas.
Although Decker came into this game as Manning's favorite red-zone target, the 25-year-old receiver has failed to top five receptions or 65 yards in a month.
Despite the fact that he's on pace for career numbers, that isn't exactly a good sign.
Loser: Eric Decker
It was not Eric Decker benefiting from Brandon Stokley's absence versus Tampa Bay, but another old teammate of Manning's.
Jacob Tamme had nine receptions to lead the game for 89 yards. He didn't score a touchdown, but he occupied Stokley's normal role of moving the chains and catching passes across the middle of the field.
Especially because Manning's diminished arm strength, Peyton loves to throw the ball in the short passing game over the middle of the field. Usually, Stokley is the recipient of most of those passes. Peyton didn't have Stokley today, so he went to Tamme instead.
Tamme and Thomas absolutely carried Denver's receiving game on Sunday.
Winner: Jacob Tamme
What is there to say about Von Miller?
Well, he won AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors in November, becoming the first Bronco since Champ Bailey did so in 2006 to accomplish the feat.
He's in the running for Defensive Player of the year with J.J. Watt and Aldon Smith. He only has about 24 tackles for loss and 14 sacks.
Oh yeah, he also now has an interception return for a touchdown to pad his resume.
With Josh Freeman receiving pressure from Mitch Unrein in the third quarter, Freeman threw a pass directly to Von Miller as he was being hit. Von returned the interception 26 yards for a touchdown to give the Broncos a 28-10 lead that Tampa Bay would never be able to recover from.
In just his second year in the NFL, Von just may win Defensive Player of the Year.
And that, my friends, is a definite winner.
Winner: Von Miller