The (12-4) Denver Broncos took care of business today, lambasting the (3-13) Oakland Raiders 47-14. The Broncos finish the regular season a perfect 8-0 at home and with today's win, they secure the No. 2 seed of their conference and a much-needed first-round bye.
The Broncos finish the year with their third-ever perfect divisional record and their sixth-ever unblemished home record. They now stand with the 1998 Broncos as the only franchise teams to finish perfect at home and in the division in the same season.
Going into today's game, Peyton Manning was 8-1 as a Bronco coming off of a loss. He's now 9-1. On the day, he went 21-of-37 for 273 yards. For only the second time in his career as a Bronco, he failed to throw a touchdown.
Manning finishes the season with 4,727 yards passing, 39 TDs and 15 interceptions. 2014 was yet another masterful performance, as he earned his 14th career Pro Bowl berth.
The Broncos didn't need Manning to throw for any TDs, as running back C.J. Anderson rushed for 3, to go along with 87 yards rushing (6.7 YPC). Today marked Anderson's second game of the season with 3 TDs, joining Terrell Davis as the only players in franchise history to have multiple games with three rushing touchdowns in the same season.
As I expected, offensive coordinator Adam Gase chose to open up the offense, utilizing 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) effectively in both the run and pass.
The Broncos still had great balance, rushing the ball 34 times and throwing it 39. It was just what Manning needed, despite not finding pay-dirt through the air.
Anderson carried the ball 13 times, but Ronnie Hillman, who had not seen the field since week 10 (ironically vs. the Raiders), led the team with 15 carries, netting 56 yards on the ground. With Hillman back on the grid-iron, the coaches likely wanted to rest Anderson as much as possible, with the playoffs next up on the docket.
Demaryius Thomas broke another record today; this time a franchise mark. With 8 receptions for 115 yards, Thomas finishes the season with 1,619 yards, moving ahead of Rod Smith (1,602) for the single-season franchise record for receiving yards.
He finishes the season with 111 receptions, just two shy of Smith's franchise record. Today also marked his tenth 100-yard receiving game of the season, tying him with four other players for second-most ever in NFL history.
To start the game, the Broncos won the toss, choosing to defer to the second half. The Raiders received the first possession and did not get their first new set of downs until halfway through the second quarter. The Broncos forced four-consecutive three-and-outs. They entered today's game with 54 three-and-outs forced, leading the NFL.
The defense looked like a unit on a mission to atone for a lackluster week 16 performance. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio prepared his troops well and they executed out on the grass.
On the Broncos first defensive series, Von Miller notched his (team-high) 14th sack of the season, giving him 49 for his career. He is now tied with Richard Dent for the fourth-most career sacks through a player's first four seasons. Imagine where he'd be had he played all 16 games last year.
The Broncos pressured Derek Carr consistently, sacking him three times. Aqib Talib got in on the action, with his first sack of the season. Lerentee McCray accounted for the third, which was the first of his career, forcing a fumbled that was picked up by cornerback Tony Carter and returned for a TD. It was a great heads-up play by the former undrafted defensive back from Florida State.
The day was overwhelmingly dominated by the Broncos, in all three phases, with the Raiders netting just three big plays. The first came on a lateral pass by Manning, which was tipped by defensive end Justin Tuck and recovered by rookie cornerback Keith McGill, who scooped it up and returned it for the Raiders first TD of the day.
The second and third big play came on the same drive in the third quarter. Carr hit running back Latavius Murray on an outlet pass, which Murray romped down-field for 46 yards. Big play No. 3 came just five plays later, as Carr hit Jamize Olawale for a 1-yard TD. I call it a big play, because it was a score, and Olawale was uncovered.
The Broncos handled their business today, but they did not emerge unscathed. They lost left guard Orlando Franklin in the third quarter with a concussion and safety David Bruton, who suffered a head/neck injury in the fourth quarter, after getting blindside-blocked in the back covering a punt.
With T.J. Ward out today and Quinton Carter on injured reserve, the Broncos were already thin at safety. When Bruton went down, the Broncos turned to recently promoted practice squader Josh Bush. Bush made a big play, intercepting Carr on the Broncos last defensive series of the game.
It's unclear how serious Bruton's injury is, but hopefully the two weeks off, which was purchased by the victory today, will afford him the time to recover and return to the team. Bruton has played well, since replacing Carter as the team's No. 3 safety. Losing him for the playoffs would be a blow, to say nothing of how it might affect the special teams coverage units.
Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler, entered the game deep in the fourth quarter and led the Broncos on a 6-play, 44-yard scoring drive, hitting Virgil Green in the flat for a TD. It was Osweiler's first career TD pass and Green's first career TD reception.
Speaking of Green, it was about time the Broncos started involving him in the passing game. As the team's best blocking tight end, he presents a real dual-threat to the opposition.
He caught 3 balls today for 46 yards. When he's in the game, the opposition expects a run. But today, the Broncos gave the NFL a new wrinkle to chew on and it could pay dividends in the playoffs.
Connor Barth was a busy boy today, but he connected on 4-of-4 field goal attempts, including a 49-yarder. The Broncos still looked a little out of sync in the redzone, but will look to remedy that in the coming weeks.
The Broncos will now get a well-earned bye week, as they prepare to host a game in the Divisional Round of the playoffs in two weeks. The Broncos took their regular season bye, way back in week 4 and have been running on fumes down the stretch. A little rest, to prepare for their next playoff opponent, could be just what they need to recharge and focus on another deep post-season run.