DENVER – Ah, that growing list of Broncos playmakers: Peyton Manning. Von Miller. Demaryius Thomas.
The second-year defensive lineman out of Wyoming played as big a role as Manning, Miller or anyone else Sunday in helping the Denver Broncos defeat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-23 and wrap up their second straight AFC West title.
Unrein caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Manning to open the scoring, then got the hit on Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman that forced a bad throw. It ended up in Miller’s hands and, moments later, the end zone for the score that turned the game into a runaway.
People are going to have to game-plan for that guy, cornerback Champ Bailey said.
Thomas caught two other touchdown passes from Manning, who now has 29 TDs this year and passed Jake Plummer and John Elway for the most scoring throws in a single season.
The Broncos (9-3) won their seventh straight and wrapped up a date in January in the playoffs, though there were no champagne bottles being uncorked in the locker room.
It’s one step, Bailey said. It’s not like we’ve done everything we want to do.
The Bucs (6-6), surprising contenders under first-year coach Greg Schiano, fell a game behind Seattle for the second NFC wild-card spot and their loss clinched the NFC South for Atlanta. They were in this game until Unrein made his second big play and set the stage for Miller’s first NFL touchdown, which capped a 21-0 third quarter for Denver.
The reality is, we get hit and throw the pick-6, Schiano said. That changes the complexion of the game. Now we’re not able to run the football.
The Broncos held Tampa Bay rookie Doug Martin to 56 yards on 18 carries.
Manning went 27 for 38 for 242 yards as the Broncos scored 30-plus points for the sixth time over their seven-game win streak – a night-and-day difference from last year, when they played low-scoring games with Tim Tebow running the offense.
With his ninth completion, Manning surpassed Dan Marino for second on the all-time completions list. He now has 4,986.