The funniest moment in the broadcast of Denver's 31-23 victory over Tampa Bay took place after Peyton Manning waved his hands to quiet the ecstatic Mile High Stadium throng prior to a play. Cut to the crowd a few seconds later and everyone in the shot was sitting quietly, like chastised grade schoolers afraid of losing recess. That image spoke volumes about how the Broncos have changed since Peyton's arrival, and why the team keeps winning.
Once again, the Broncos correctly called the pre-game coin flip, and once again, they deferred in order to take the ball at the start of the second half -- an indication of the faith the coaching staff has in the rapidly maturing defensive unit, as well as an understanding that the O takes a while to get rolling.
And so it went on Sunday. While Denver scored a touchdown on its first drive, there were numerous sputters along the way -- a couple of negligible Knowshon Moreno runs before he cracked off a twelve yarder, incompletions to Demaryius Thomas and Joel Dreessen, and a misfire to Matthew Willis that turned into positive yards thanks to a Tampa Bay penalty. And after that TD, to unlikely target Mitch Unrein, the Broncos failed to rack up any more points during the first half, despite Manning's typically strong play and ability to improvise, including a first-down-gaining toss to Moreno while the latter was flat on his back -- a moment that was as amusing as it was effective.
In the meantime, Tampa Bay registered ten points thanks to the combination of quarterback Josh Freeman, a young signal caller who's getting better by the week, and running back Doug Martin, whose nickname, "Muscle Hamster," suggests an Onion-approved slang term for an erect penis. ("And now, feast your eyes on my Muscle Hamster!") Due to a few lapses on the part of the Broncos' D, exemplified by a forty-yard strike to Mike Williams, and Denver went into halftime at a 10-7 deficit.
Which appeared to make Peyton Manning angry. And opponents don't like Peyton when he's angry.
Continue for more of our post about the Broncos' defeat of the Bucs. During the third quarter, Manning essentially willed his teammates to stop making the sort of little mistakes that marred the first half -- and like those boisterous fans who weren't cheering on his preferred schedule, they followed orders. The first possession of the frame didn't add up to much, but the next two resulted in a pair of Thomas touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the defense suddenly roared to life -- especially Von Miller, who made up for a fairly quiet initial thirty minutes with a monstrous second half highlighted by his NFL-career first interception, which he cashed in for six points. Sure, he was also ticketed for a low hit on Freeman that negated a Chris Harris pick. But he showed how small an impact this penalty had on his performance by subsequently causing a Freeman fumble.
Defensive player of the year? At this point in the season, yes.
Thanks to the third quarter points eruption, the fourth should have qualified as extended garbage time. But because of the drive instilled in the Bucs by gritty coach Greg Schiano and another missed field goal by Matt Prater -- what the hell is wrong with him lately? -- Tampa Bay managed to draw within eight points toward the end of the game, rendering an onside kick with a little over two minutes to play meaningful...at least until it drifted into Eric Decker's arms.
That makes seven Ws in a row for the Broncos, and with three of four games left (against the Raiders, Browns and suddenly tragic Kansas City Chiefs) falling into the "very winnable" category, it's conceivable Denver could go into the playoffs with the second-best record in the conference. And even if they don't, the newly minted AFC West champs will be a horror show for whatever opponent is unfortunate enough to draw them -- including, possibly, Peyton's old team, the Indianapolis Colts, led by his replacement, Andrew Luck.
All of which adds up to a question we never get tired of asking: Timmy who?
Look below to see three videos: a CBS4 interview with Von Miller, the introduction of the defense at the game yesterday, and a clip (online for now) of Manning's wacky pass to Moreno.
More from our Sports archive: "Videos: Von Miller, Broncos survive overlooking the Kansas City Chiefs."
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