Denver Broncos continue record season, clinch playoff spot

6:01 AM, Dec 9, 2013   |    comments
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KUSA - Putting themselves in an early hole again, the Denver Broncos rattled off 24-unanswered points, including Matt Prater's NFL-record field goal, to rally for a 51-28 victory Sunday against the visiting Tennessee Titans.

After a sketchy first quarter, the Broncos let the Titans jump to a 21-10 lead with seven minutes left in the first half after Shonn Greene went around the left corner for 28-yard touchdown, which was his second touchdown of the game.

But the Broncos' offense found its rhythm and scored on four consecutive drives to take a 34-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter. From there, the Broncos' defense rattled the Titans and Denver's offense kept charging to score at least 50 points for the third time this season.

The big momentum-changer was Prater's record 64-yard field goal to pull within 21-20 as the first half ended. The kick barely cleared the crossbar but broke the 43-year-old record first set by New Orleans' Tom Dempsey in 1970.

"It happened so quick, I didn't really have a lot of time to think," Prater said. "I just went out and basically kick it my hardest and luckily it went straight."

Added coach John Fox: "We felt the energy in the stadium as we ran off the field. No doubt it energized our football team."

The Broncos (11-2) clinched a playoff spot and maintain a one-game lead on New England for the top spot in the AFC playoffs. The Patriots (10-3) rallied Sunday to beat Cleveland in the final seconds.

"That definitely does lift your team up," Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning said of Prater's field goal. "Then we had a good mix of run and passes. ... We came out of halftime ready to play and playing fast."

The Broncos came out and took the opening drive of the second half 80 yards in six plays for a 27-21 lead on Manning's third TD pass of the game, this one a 4-yarder to Demaryius Thomas.

"We were doing well at the beginning," Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner said, "but they took off like a rocket."

The Broncos' defense made its first big play of the game on the Titans' ensuing possession when noseguard Terrance Knighton secured his second career interception. Denver took a 34-21 lead eight plays later on Knowshon Moreno's 1-yard touchdown run, his 10th rushing TD of the season.

Denver took a 44-28 lead late in the fourth quarter when Manning connected with Eric Decker on a 20-yard pass play after the Titans' turnover three plays earlier. With that score, Manning set an NFL record with his seventh four-touchdown game of the season.

Manning's 45 TD passes this season moves him into a tie for fifth with Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers (2011) in the single-season touchdown pass list. Tom Brady holds the record with 50 TD passes for New England in 2007.

Manning finished the game with a team-record 39 completions for 397 yards (59 attempts).

The Titans (5-8) finished with just 254 total yards as Ryan Fitzpatrick was 13-of-24 passing for 172 yards and one touchdown. Denver finished with 551 yards, and Moreno had 78 yards on 14 carries and Montee Ball with 77 yards on 15 carries.

"You never plan for 95 plays," Manning said. "Defense had 45 plays. They settled down and did a good job of getting them off the field on third down. We had a lot of first downs, I don't know how many (39 total), but we were first down, second down, first down. When you're in that kind of rhythm, that puts a lot of pressing on a defense and doesn't even give them a chance to get into their third-down packages."  

Tennessee and Broncos made things look easy on their opening drives, with Tennessee taking a 7-0 lead on a quick five-play, 73-yard drive followed by the Broncos going 74 yards in 13 plays.

The Broncos set another NFL record on Wes Welker's 1-yard TD catch to tie the game at 7. It was Welker's 10th TD catch of the season, which set an NFL record as he became the fourth Bronco this season to score at least 10 touchdowns. 

Welker left the game and did not return after getting hit on an incomplete pass in the second quarter. He is being evaluated for concussion symptoms.

But soft kickoff return coverage allowed the Titans' Leon Washington to take the ensuing kick 95 yards to the Broncos' 2-yard line (thanks to a TD-saving tackle by Michael Adams), but Tennessee took a 14-7 lead on the next play on Chris Johnson's run, his fifth touchdown of the season.

The Broncos had two touchdown passes overturned after review on their second possession and had to settle for a 25-yard field goal to pull within 14-10 late in the first quarter.

(KUSA-TV © 2013 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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