Buccaneers-Broncos Preview

With one of the leading candidates for MVP lining up under

center, the Denver Broncos’ offense doesn’t look too fazed despite

the loss of its top running back.

Peyton Manning and the Broncos can wrap up an AFC West title on

Sunday with a home win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are

trying to keep pace for an NFC wild-card spot.

A Denver victory would also give the team its first seven-game

regular-season winning streak since 1998, when it won its second

straight Super Bowl behind John Elway.

With last Sunday’s 17-9 win at Kansas City, Manning broke a tie

with Elway – his boss and Broncos vice president – with his 149th

win as a starting quarterback, trailing only Brett Favre (186) for

most in NFL history.

Manning was 22 of 37 for 285 yards with two touchdowns and an

interception against the Chiefs. The victory helped the Broncos

(8-3) open a four-game lead over second-place San Diego, but all

the four-time MVP wanted to talk about was his running back.

“I’ve got to tip my hat to Knowshon Moreno,” said Manning, whose

104.8 quarterback rating and 26 TDs thrown both rank third. “He

stepped up and did a heck of a job. Really an impressive effort by

him.”

Moreno, filling in for Willis McGahee after he was lost for the

season to a knee injury, ran for 85 yards on 20 carries in his

first start since Oct. 30, 2011. He will start again against Tampa

Bay for Denver, which can also clinch the division with a San Diego

loss to Cincinnati.

“I thought he had a very good performance,” coach John Fox said.

“It’s the way he’s going about his business up to this point.

Everybody had great confidence in him and he came through for

us.”

It was also the first time Moreno had been in uniform since

losing a fumble in Week 2 against Atlanta. The No. 12 overall pick

in 2009 was initially expected to be Denver’s No. 3 option in a

committee that also includes Ronnie Hillman and Lance Ball after

McGahee’s injury, but Fox elected to go with Moreno.

He ran for 947 yards as a rookie but has since toiled with

inconsistency and injury, including a season-ending ACL tear last

year.

“I never felt discouraged,” Moreno said. “I knew what my

abilities were. At the same time, I was just waiting for my

opportunities to come, and that’s what I think I did.”

The Buccaneers (6-5) are looking to return to their winning ways

after last Sunday’s 24-23 home loss to Atlanta snapped a four-game

run.

Tampa Bay still remained tied with Seattle and Minnesota, but

the Seahawks own the tiebreaker for the NFC’s second wild-card

spot. The opportunity for the team’s first playoff appearance since

2007 is there, but more hurdles at New Orleans and Atlanta still

await.

“That’s the way this league is,” linebacker Adam Hayward said.

“People who are supposed to win don’t and that leaves the door

open. We’ve just got to take care of our business, the next game

coming up, and the ones after that.”

Josh Freeman completed 19 of 30 passes for 256 yards and Doug

Martin ran for two touchdowns to help the Bucs to a 23-17

fourth-quarter lead. But they gave up 353 passing yards to Matt

Ryan, who engineered the Falcons’ game-winning drive that ended

with a Michael Turner touchdown run.

Moreno could run into trouble against the NFL’s best run defense

(81.5 yards a game), but Tampa Bay has struggled to stop the pass

all season, giving up an NFL-worst 315.5 yards a game. A four-game

suspension for cornerback Eric Wright after his violation of the

league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances won’t help. The

Buccaneers already traded their best corner, Aqib Talib, to New

England on Nov. 1.

E.J. Biggers and Leonard Johnson – who have a combined four

seasons of NFL experience and 21 career starts – started against

the Falcons.

“We’re going to practice, meet, and prepare and then we’re going

to go out to Denver and the play the best game we’ve played all

year,” coach Greg Schiano said. “Where that stacks up against

Denver and Peyton Manning, I only control half of that. We’re going

to do our best to make sure we do our best.”

Manning was examined after having his head slammed to the turf

on a play in the second quarter against the Chiefs, but Fox said he

was cleared at halftime and reported no change Monday.

The Broncos are 5-2 all-time against the Buccaneers, winning the

most recent meeting in 2008.