Titans vs. Broncos: 8 Takeaways from Denver's 51-28 Victory over Tennessee
The game was a higher-scoring affair than expected. It was also a more competitive one than expected.
The Titans led the game the entire first half. Tennessee was up 21-10 at one point during the second quarter and entered halftime with a 21-20 lead.
After the second half started, however, it was all Broncos.
Denver went on a 24-0 scoring run spanning the second and third quarters to take a commanding 34-21 lead. After Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a 41-yard pass to Justin Hunter to cut Denver's lead to 34-28 late in the third quarter, the Broncos didn't allow the the Titans to score again.
The Broncos scored the remaining 17 points of the game in the fourth quarter and cruised to a blowout victory.
After Denver's 11th victory of the season, what are some takeaways from this game?
Peyton Manning Is an Absolute Machine
As the Broncos continue to have one of the most successful regular seasons in franchise history, Peyton Manning continues to have the finest regular season of his career.
At the age of 37 through 13 games, Manning has now thrown for 45 touchdown passes and 4,522 passing yards. He added four touchdown passes in Week 14's victory over the Titans.
This was your classic Manning game. He looked like a player straight out of a Madden video game. Peyton completed 39 passes—a new franchise record—and moved the offense down the field with ease. He wasn't sacked a single time during the game.
As redundant as it continues to sound, Peyton is truly one-of-a-kind. There was never a time during the game when you felt he wasn't in control. The Titans were so discouraged on defense that they didn't even bother to mix up their defensive packages to slow down the four-time NFL MVP. They just sat there and took it.
For all of the criticism he has received for his play in cold-weather games, it was refreshing to see the veteran quarterback put on the type of passing display that he demonstrated Sunday.
Peyton Manning Will Still Have Cold-Weather Detractors
As mentioned before, Peyton Manning had a monster game. The Broncos even broke the franchise record for first downs in a single game (39).
Coach John Fox said it best, via Joan Niesen of the Denver Post: "He did a superb job. I think our team did a superb job of getting ready for those elements. ... Thursday, Friday and Saturday were pretty frigid, and I thought it was great for us."
So one would think with game-time temperature at just 18 degrees, and with Manning demonstrating his passing dominance over the Titans in the definition of a cold-weather game, that this game would quiet down the detractors, right?
Not so fast.
The Titans are an average team. One can argue that they're a below-average team with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Peyton's excellent passing performance versus a below-average team in a game with no pressure won't do anything to shut up his detractors.
The only way Peyton will be able to quiet down his critics is by winning cold-weather games when the pressure is mounting. The four-time NFL MVP will have that opportunity in the postseason.
Until then, don't expect the chatter over Manning's underwhelming performances in cold-weather games to quiet down.
Offensive Line Dominates
Although the Tennessee Titans came into this game ranked 16th in the NFL in overall sacks (31), the front four of the defensive unit had 25 of those sacks, meaning the Titans have success in pressuring the quarterback without blitzing.
Well, the Titans did more of the same in Week 14 versus the Broncos. There were no special packages or innovative blitzes, just four guys pass-rushing Peyton Manning.
And the Titans paid for it.
Manning will get the credit as always, but the offensive line performed well yet again. They gave up zero sacks, and there might not have been a single time when Manning was truly pressured—much like in the Broncos' 27-17 victory versus the previously top-ranked defense of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Orlando Franklin was injured at one point in the game and Winston Justice replaced him for a period of time, but the Broncos' line adjusted just fine without Franklin.
This game further demonstrated that the Broncos have the best pass-blocking offensive line in the NFL.
Defense Is Too Inconsistent
Although the Broncos won and actually held the Titans to just seven points during the final 37 minutes of the game, the game left a lot to be desired from the defense.
The defense lifted its game when it had to, forcing two turnovers in the second half and shutting down Tennessee's offensive attack, but there's room for improvement.
The big plays given up to Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter were a cause for concern. Hunter had four catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. To make matters worse, two of his catches went for 41 yards or more—one was a 57-yard grab that put the Titans in the red zone, while the other was a 41-yard touchdown grab.
Perhaps Denver's greatest cause for concern on defense is the play of the defensive backs. Kayvon Webster was burned on the 57-yard catch by Hunter, while Duke Ihenacho failed to provide Quentin Jammer with required help over the top when Hunter beat Jammer for the 41-yard touchdown catch.
The Broncos started Ihenacho at safety while starting Paris Lenon at middle linebacker in an effort to preserve Wesley Woodyard's health by cutting down his snaps.
With the amount of weekly turnover that takes place on Denver's starting defensive unit, it would probably be a good idea for the Broncos to get their act together on defense before the postseason starts.
We don't want to see a replay of last season's postseason loss.
Kudos to Matt Prater
The Broncos kicker didn't hit a game-winning field goal this time. In fact, he had just three field goals on the day.
But Matt Prater deserves a slide because he now holds an NFL record after the Broncos' victory over the Titans: the longest field goal in NFL history.
With time expiring in the first half and the Broncos trailing 21-17 at the Tennessee 46-yard line, John Fox elected to kick a field goal—what's the worst that could happen, right?
Up until this point, Prater's career-long field-goal conversion was from 59 yards. This one was 64 yards.
Whatever you want to attribute it to, whether it be the altitude, the wind or just Prater's leg strength, the six-year NFL veteran converted the 64-yard field goal attempt.
The previous record was from 63 yards out, and former Broncos kicker Jason Elam shared that record with several others before Sunday.
Now, Prater is the sole owner of the NFL record.
John Fox Returns, and the Broncos Don't Miss a Beat
Although some may have not noticed, Broncos head coach John Fox returned to the sidelines after a four-game absence due to heart surgery.
And the good news is, the Broncos didn't miss a beat.
In fact, on the Broncos' first offensive drive of the game, Coach Fox elected to go for it on fourth down—twice. The Broncos converted both times, with the last fourth-down conversion resulting in a touchdown.
This is newsworthy because Fox has been known as a conservative coach.
It was Fox who decided the Broncos should run the football versus the Baltimore Ravens in the playoffs last year with Denver leading 35-28 with a little over a minute remaining in the game.
This game was a nice change-of-pace in decision making.
If Fox makes more gutsy decisions such as these as the Broncos enter the postseason, it should result in more positive outcomes.
Running Game Continues to Complement Peyton
Knowshon Moreno ran for 78 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries, while Montee Ball ran for 77 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.
The two runners combined for two touchdowns and a yards-per-carry average of 5.3.
As we enter mid-December and get closer to the postseason, Denver will need to continue to have the type of balance that it's had over the past three games.
Moreno was injured in last season's postseason loss to Baltimore. Ronnie Hillman was forced to carry the load in his absence for the fourth quarter and overtime. Moreno's ability to block for Peyton Manning and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield were missed while he was out.
With the Broncos possessing a true two-headed rushing attack, even if Peyton struggles in the postseason—or in cold weather—Denver can pound opposing defenses while relieving Manning of the pressure of carrying the offense himself.
Through the first half of Week 14's victory over the Titans, the passing game averaged just 5.9 yards an attempt while the running game averaged 7.3 yards per attempt.
Let's see more of that as the Broncos enter the postseason.
New England Continues to Win, but Denver Still Has Control over No. 1 Seed
And yet, the Patriots found a way to claw their way to a 27-26 victory over the Browns. Behind two Tom Brady touchdown passes in the span of 30 seconds, the Patriots were able to pull off arguably a more impressive comeback than their comeback versus the Broncos just two weeks prior.
With three weeks left to play, the Broncos don't have to worry about what the Patriots do. All the Broncos have to worry about is what they do.
Win their remaining three games, and they're the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
It would have been nice if New England had lost to Cleveland, which would have given the Broncos a two-game cushion over the Patriots. But it wasn't meant to be, and the Patriots remain just a game back of the Broncos while holding the head-to-head tiebreaker due to their victory over Denver in Week 12.
Let the race for the No. 1 seed begin.
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