After a stalled out initial drive the Broncos were able to rebound and capitalize on a Tampa turnover as Kenoy Kennedy stripped a Charles Lee reception, allowing cornerback Willie Middlebrooks to recover the ball at the Tampa Bay 43-yard line.
Denver responded with one of their best offensive drives of the game as quarterback Jake Plummer marched downfield, connecting with Patrick Hape from the 5-yard line to give Denver an early 7-0 first quarter lead.
That lead increased to 10-0 when Jason Elam connected on the first of his three field goals of the game, this one from 49-yards out, finishing out a 7- play 31-yard drive in the early moments of the second quarter.
Tampa Bay narrowed that lead on their next possession thanks to a Broncos miscue as Brad Johnson hit Michael Clayton on a pass along the right sideline. Clayton, who dove to catch the ball, fell untouched to the ground, immediately got to his feet when former Buccaneer safety John Lynch tapped him on the back, assuming he was down by contact.
Since Clayton was on his feet when Lynch touched him instead of tackling him, he was able to continue downfield 51-yards for the Buccaneers lone touchdown.
"There's a new league emphasis,' Lynch admitted. "If they're laying down and you hit them, you're going to get 15 yards. I tried to do the right thing for the first time in my career and keep the NFL out of my pocket and I get burned."
Lynch, who had spent his eleven seasons with Tampa Bay before the Broncos acquired him as a free agent during the off-season, had an emotional return to the city that drafted him with their third round pick in the 1993 NFL Draft.
"My objective was to come in here and get a win," said Lynch. "But I feel for my guys. There are some mixed emotions. I told them to just keep fighting, and I know they will."
While the Buccaneers continued to fight, Denver once again found the scoreboard as Elam found the range from 51-yards out, his longest of the season, increasing the Bronco lead to 13-7 with just over five minutes remaining in the first half.
Tampa came close to taking the lead in the final moments of the second quarter when Johnson led the team on a 5-play, 62-yard drive down to the Denver 10-yard line, but were unable to connect on three successive passes, settling instead for a 28-yard Martin Gramatica field goal to narrow the lead at 13-10 as the first half expired.
Gramatica tied the score midway through the third quarter with his second field goal of the game, this one from 30-yards out, capping off a 9-play, 51-yard Tampa Bay drive.
While the final quarter proved itself to be equally as boring from an offensive standpoint, the Broncos were able to capitalize on some key mistakes by the Tampa Bay defense.
The first came on Denver's initial drive of the final quarter. Starting at their own 13-yard line a Plummer to Ashley Lelie pass attempt was flagged for interference, giving the Broncos a 37-yard gain to midfield.
Unable to find the end zone after reaching the Tampa Bay 13-yard line, Jason Elam connected on his third field goal of the game, putting Denver on top 16-13. During the play Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks was called for defensive holding, allowing Denver one more opportunity at a touchdown, nullifying Elam's kick.
Again Denver's drive stalled leaving Elam to break the 13-13 tie with a 23-yard field goal. While the holding penalty did not result in addition points for the Broncos, it did eat up critical time off the clock. The 14 play, 84-yard drive lasted 6:32.
After holding the Buccaneers to a three and out Denver regained possession on their own 10-yard line with 7:26 remaining.
Using an effective mix of runs and passes, the Broncos continued to eat time off the clock, moving to the Tampa Bay 42-yard line at the two minute mark of the fourth quarter.
On third and three Plummer's pass to Patrick Hape fell incomplete, but once again the Buccaneers defense provided the Broncos life as defensive tackle Chartrick Darby was called for an offsides penalty, allowing Denver to retain possession with another series of downs.
The Broncos continued with the ground game, reaching the Tampa Bay 31-yard line, where Micah Knoor was forced to punt with fourteen seconds remaining.
With one final attempt Tampa Bay brought in quarterback Chris Simms, who attempted a desperation pass to wide receiver Tim Brown, which fell to the ground, ironically broken up by former Buccaneergreat John Lynch.
The win, aleit ugly, improves Denver's record to 3-1, giving them sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
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