Denver clinches AFC West title: Broncos 31, Bucs 23

By: Paul Klee
December 2, 2012
photo - Broncos nose tackle Mitch Unrein catches a touchdown pass as the Denver Broncos trail the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-10 at halftime Sunday, December 2, 2012 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette  Photo by
Broncos nose tackle Mitch Unrein catches a touchdown pass as the Denver Broncos trail the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 7-10 at halftime Sunday, December 2, 2012 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Michael Ciaglo/The Gazette Photo by  

DENVER — The Broncos made it official with Sunday's 31-23 defeat of the Bucs at Sports Authority Field.

The AFC West title will stay in Denver.

The Broncos clinched the division and continued working on a first-round bye in the playoffs. John Fox became the 10th coach to win back-to-back division titles in his first two seasons.

Denver (9-3) won the AFC West with an 8-8 record last season. With upcoming against Oakland (3-8), Cleveland (3-8) and Kansas City (2-10) — and a tough one at Baltimore (9-2) — their win total this season figures to swell.

The Broncos have won seven straight games. Denver blew open the latest one with a 21-point third quarter in which Peyton Manning threw a pair of touchdowns to Demaryius Thomas. To that point, the Denver offense had been sputtering.

Manning got it rolling after halftime. He has 29 touchdown passes, setting a single-season record for the Broncos. Sunday’s game marked the seventh time this season he’s thrown at least three touchdown passes.

More coverage from Sports Authority Field coming later on Live Report — Denver 28, Tampa Bay 10 — End of third quarter

-Here's the odd part of that scoring drive from Denver. Five passing plays... and not one to Eric Decker. I didn't see Manning even glance in Decker's direction.

-Decker's receptions the past four games: 2, 2, 4, 1 (today). That, after Decker's run of seven touchdowns in five games. Manning prefers the matchups elsewhere.... such as wherever Demaryius is on the field.

-Denver's special teams are a big reason why it has the lead. Colquitt's three punts inside the 10. Trindon Holliday with consecutive solid returns. No penalties on kick/punt coverage.

-The offense has its mojo back. Manning has three touchdowns through three quarters and 29 touchdowns this season. The latter is a Broncos single-season record.

-Decker's clearly in the doghouse. Didn't have a pass thrown his way on the second scoring drive of this half, either.

-Heisman winners have the so-called "Heisman moment." Perhaps Von Miller's pick-six qualifies as an NFL Defensive Player of the Year moment.

-The rest of the schedule: Oakland (3-8), Baltimore (9-2), Cleveland (3-8) and Kansas City (2-10). At worst, the Broncos should finish 12-4. That doesn't take into account Brock Osweiler taking snaps in the finale or otherwise.

-Asked Trindon Holliday a few weeks ago if he's ever been caught from behind. "Never," he said. It's probably unfair to say the punt returner was caught from behind right there.

Back at the final horn. Klee Live Report — Tampa Bay 10, Denver 7 — Halftime

-Bigger arm: Josh Freeman or the Bears quarterback?

-Britton Colquitt, perhaps the most underappreciated of Broncos, delivers another punt inside the 10. And then another one, the latter inside the 5. He's the Broncos MVP so far today.

-Still don't understand the Ronnie Hillman pick. Doug Martin instead of trading the 31st pick? Would've understood that.

-Tough crowd. Broncos booed the playcalling when Fox chose to run it on third-and-long. Fans preferred if Manning's arm had been given the chance. That makes 76,126 of us.

-Wrote about the Doug Martin mistake a few weeks ago. For a team that so obviously needs a running back — one that can play every down — passing on the Boise State star was a head-scratcher. Here's the column.

-Broncos are in trouble today. These Bucs are good, strangely good, considering their 6-5 record. Worth noting: Tampa Bay hasn't lost a game by more than a touchdown.

-First sighting of a Mike Alstott jersey. He's had a few beers. The Tampa Bay fan, not Alstott.

-Two things (that have nothing to do with the players) are standing out: the field is in rough shape after the state championship games Saturday and the officials are using all of the rulebook.

-Mike Pereira, the officiating analyst for Fox Sports, wrote on Twitter the officials made the correct call to flag Von Miller for hitting Josh Freeman below the knee.

-John Fox doesn't have Twitter on the sideline. He's been non-stop in the sideline judge's right ear.

Back in a few. Tomorrow's column subject is undecided. Klee Live Report — Tampa Bay 10, Denver 7 — End of first quarter

-Remember the Sundays when Denver's defense couldn't get off the field? Jack Del Rio fixed that. The Broncos now lead the NFL by forcing 42 three-and-outs.

-Love writing this: A defensive lineman from Eaton caught a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning. Predictably, it was Mitch Unrein's first touchdown catch.

-Broncos PR says Unrein is the first lineman in franchise history with a TD catch.

-Unrein then left the game with an eye injury. He's probable to return.

-The Bucs defense looked the Rutgers defense on the Broncos' first drive (10 plays, 65 yards, 4 minutes).

-The Bucs can move the ball, too. Josh Freeman threw a deep strike to Mike Williams and followed it up with a touchdown pass to one of Peyton Manning's favorites, Dallas Clark.

-It's official: Scribble "Bears" under the "Pretenders" header. Chicago's now 1-4 vs. teams with winning records.

-Our favorite usher — Section 315 — is on his 'A' game today. The cheerleaders have nothing on him.

-Only nine NFL coaches have delivered back-to-back division titles in their first two seasons. John Fox can become the 10th today.

-Romeo Crennel is taking questions from reporters in KC, according to Twitter. Asked what he saw Saturday, he coach said, "It wasn't a pretty sight. I'm choosing not to talk about it."

Back in a few. Klee Live Report — Tampa Bay (6-5) at Denver (8-3) — Sports Authority Field — Kickoff: 2:05 p.m.

-Christian McCaffrey, the son of Bronco great Ed McCaffrey, won his third state title with Valor Christian on Saturday. And it looks like the Valor Christian football team is on the sideline right now.

-The Stokley absence could be a big one for the Broncos. He's the go-to guy on third down.

-At least 10 Broncos fans below the press box are on Facebook right now.

-Today's is the 800th regular-season game in Broncos history (record: 414-375-10). Denver's the only franchise to win 90-plus games in each of the past three decades. The Broncos have some work to do to keep that streak going (20-23 in the 2010s).

-You already know the Broncos can clinch the AFC West with a win today. That would mark their first back-to-back division titles since 1987.

Back in a few. Klee Live Report — Tampa Bay (6-5) at Denver (8-3) — Sports Authority Field — Kickoff: 2:05 p.m.

-Notable inactives today: Brandon Stokley (wrist), Robert Ayers (personal), Tracy Porter (depth in secondary).

-These teams haven't played since 2008. Denver's 3-1 against Tampa Bay in Denver.

-The Broncos hosted a rugby squad — the St. Kilda Saints of the Australian Football League — at Dove Valley on Friday.

"Where they are from is where my son just got back from Saturday from studying abroad—Melbourne, Australia—so it was good to catch up on what was going on in Melbourne," John Fox said.

-Talked to Denver mayor Michael Hancock about the possibility Denver could host a Super Bowl in 2018, 2019 or 2020. And the mayor promised to break out his Broncos mascot uniform if the city is awarded the big game. Here's the column.

-There are always fans on the sideline prior to kickoff. Seems to be a lot more than usual today. All of the No. 18 jerseys have about... seven more minutes until Peyton Manning goes through his usual pregame warmup.

Back in a few. Klee Live Report — Tampa Bay (6-5) at Denver (8-3) — Sports Authority Field — Kickoff: 2:05 p.m.

Afternoon everyone. Columnist Paul Klee here from Sports Authority Field. We'll be here with updates and notes through the final horn. A few things to get started...

-Dangerous game for Denver. These aren't your older brother's Bucs. With a different bounce of the ball, there would be two teams with long winning streaks here today. Tampa Bay had won four straight before losing to Atlanta — by a single point.

"They play very aggressive," Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said.

-Another sunroof Sunday in Denver. There's a huddle of Bucs fans tailgating in the north parking outside Sports Authority Field. They're all wearing shorts and flip-flops. Here's the view from the press box.

-For what little it's worth, I don't think the Chiefs should be playing a football game today. Prayers go out to the family of Kasandra Perkins. Here is a well-written column from KC Star columnist Sam Mellinger on Saturday's tragic event: Link.

Back in a few with some notes. Feel free to email ( or tweet (@Klee_Gazette) throughout the game with any questions or thoughts. Klee

Comment Policy

LoginORRegister To receive a better ad experience

Learn more
You are reading 0 of your of 0 free premium stories for this month read

Register Today To get to up to 4 more free stories each and every month

  • Get access to commenting on articles
  • Access to 4 more premium pieces of content!
  • See fewer annoying advertisements
We hope you enjoyed your 4 free premium stories
Continue reading now by logging in or registering
Register Now
Already registered? Login Now