Denver, CO – Peyton Manning had three touchdown passes and the Denver Broncos clinched the AFC West with a 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Manning went 27-for-38 with 242 yards and an interception as the Broncos (9-3) won their seventh straight game and clinched their division for the second straight year and 12th time in franchise history. Also, Manning moved past Dan Marino for second place all-time for completions and now has 4,986 for his career.
"The main goal coming into today was to get the win," said Manning. "We knew we were facing a hot team today and that we were going to have our hands full. That being said, it feels really good to win the division and we'll continue to improve as we head to the playoffs."
Demaryius Thomas totaled eight catches for 99 yards and two touchdowns, while Knowshon Moreno had 69 yards on 20 carries and added four catches for 14 yards in the win.
"At the end of the day everyone is rooting for that world championship," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "We still have a quarter of the football season left. It's a great accomplishment, but let's see what happens the rest of the way.
Josh Freeman went 18-for-39 with 242 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, with Mike Williams and Dallas Clark each catching a scoring pass in the loss for the Buccaneers (6-6), who have dropped their past two games.
The loss by Tampa Bay allowed Atlanta to clinch the NFC South. The Falcons had defeated the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
"We're still looking at it as a one-game season and there's a lot of football to be played," Williams said about his team's playoff chances. "We're going to try and do our part to get a couple wins and see what happens after that."
The Broncos trailed by three points in the third quarter, but found the end zone on three straight drives during the frame to take the lead.
After an exchange of punts to start the quarter, Denver got the ball near midfield and needed just four plays to get into the end zone. A 16-yard pass interference call on Tampa was followed by an 8-yard catch in the back of the end zone by Thomas for a 14-10 lead with 9:21 to play in the period.
Following another short possession from the Bucs, the Broncos got the ball back near midfield once more. Manning needed just seven plays to get in the end zone and again went to Thomas, who came up with a 10-yard score for a 21-10 advantage with 4:39 to play in the third.
It didn't take long for Denver for to score again, and this time its defense got in on the action. Von Miller made a leaping grab of a Freeman pass and scampered down the left sideline for a 26-yard score and a 28-10 lead with 3:56 to play in the third quarter. It was the first interception of his career.
With a drive that spanned the third and fourth quarters, Tampa finally stopped Denver's momentum with a 50-yard field goal by Connor Barth that made it a 28-13 game on the first play of the final period.
The Broncos, though, killed that momentum with a 14-play, 68-yard drive that ate up over seven minutes of the clock and was capped by a 31-yard field goal from Matt Prater for a 31-13 lead with 7:36 to play.
A 55-yard field goal from Barth with 3:23 to play got it back to a two-score game and following a three-and-out from the Broncos, the Bucs got in the end zone when Freeman found Williams in the end zone from five yards out to bring Tampa Bay within 31-23 with 2:33 to play.
Denver, though, recovered the onsides kick and was able to get the first down to kill off the rest of the clock.
Following a quick three-and-out from Tampa Bay on the opening possession of the game, Denver got the ball back at its own 35 and went to work.
Two short completions and an illegal contact penalty on Tampa Bay moved the ball across midfield, and Manning followed with two more completions to get the ball down to the 25. A Moreno run of 12 yards later on moved the ball to the 1-yard line and the next play saw Manning hook up with Mitch Unrein, who normally plays at defensive tackle, for a score and a 7-0 lead with 8:47 left in the first quarter.
Tampa Bay followed with a nine-play, 61-yard drive that saw Barth hit a 31- yard field goal to make it a 7-3 game. The big play of the drive was a 26-yard catch by Doug Martin that got the ball across midfield.
After forcing a three-and-out from the Broncos, the Buccaneers got the ball back at their own 30 and the second play saw Freeman and Williams hook up for a 40-yard gain down to the Denver 23. Three plays later, Freeman found Clark in the end zone on an 11-yard score and a 10-7 lead with 14 seconds left in the first quarter.
Denver crossed midfield on each of its next two touches, but had to punt both times and the game went into halftime with Tampa Bay holding a three-point lead.
Brett Favre is the all-time lead for completions with 6,300 ... It's the first seven-game winning streak for Denver since the team opened the 1998 season with 13 straight wins ... Tampa Bay hosts Philadelphia next week ... Denver takes its winning streak to Oakland, where it will play on Thursday ... Denver has won six of the eight meetings with Tampa Bay, including the past three contests.