Broncos back in control of No. 1 AFC seed

If Miami Dolphins defensive back Michael Thomas ever starts a

fan club, he won’t have any trouble getting a Denver chapter up and

going.

Thomas’ interception of Tom Brady’s pass in the end zone on

fourth down with 2 seconds left Sunday in his NFL debut preserved

Miami’s win that kept the New England Patriots from overtaking

Denver in the race for the top seed in the AFC playoffs.

So, the Broncos (11-3), who lost at home to San Diego on

Thursday night, find themselves with the ultimate reboot after

their weekend furlough from football.

”Of course it feels better to control your own destiny,”

run-stuffer Terrance Knighton said Monday. ”But you don’t want any

(more) scares like that. We want teams to come through Denver. The

good thing is we’re in control of that again and we’ve got to

handle our business. Because, having the same record as the Chiefs,

we also want to win our division.”

That’s because if Kansas City wins the AFC West, the Broncos

fall from the first seed to the fifth, behind all the other

division winners no matter their records.

Because they swept the Chiefs, the Broncos own the tiebreaker,

so all they have to do is win road games at Houston and Oakland,

which have a combined 6-22 record, and they’ll secure the No. 1

seed in the AFC and a first-round bye for the second straight

season.

The Broncos’ mood, so glum after their stunning 27-20 loss to

the Chargers last week, matched the unseasonably warm weather

Monday.

”I think it’s a little brighter because we know what we’ve got

to do to get home-field advantage: we’ve just got to keep

winning,” receiver Bubba Caldwell said. ”Even though we lost,

we’re still in the same position that we were in before that game.

Now, we don’t have to watch New England and some of these other

teams and see what they’re doing. We’ve just got to handle our

business and everything will fall in place.”

The Broncos figure their long weekend gave them a chance to

clear their heads and heal their bodies.

”Yeah, I call it a mini-bye,” Caldwell said.

Denver’s loss was a harbinger of a wild weekend in which four

more division leaders were beaten, including the Cincinnati

Bengals, whose loss to Pittsburgh prevented them from overtaking

New England for second place in the playoff positioning.

”Some crazy football yesterday,” receiver Eric Decker said.

”Fortunately, we’re still No. 1 in our conference and we’ve got

two weeks left to make sure we keep it that way. We’ve got to come

out stronger this week against Houston, play better all-around to

make sure to control our own destiny.”

Fox said the slew of upsets provided a good caveat.

”You’d just better have your `A’ game ready. I think it’s a

great example of that,” he said. ”You look at the top three

seeds, including us, losing, and all to division teams that maybe

weren’t really high in the standings. I think it just goes to show

you on any given Sunday, you’d better be ready to play.”

At least one Bronco insists he isn’t worried about when or where

the Broncos’ playoff journey begins.

”I mean, we’re definitely happy New England was able to lose so

we’re able to get first place. But I’m really looking at it like it

doesn’t really matter what seed we get anymore,” cornerback Chris

Harris said. ”My mindset is either way we go, home or away, we’ve

got to be at our best in the playoffs. We’ve seen that happen last

year, getting the No. 1 seed, it doesn’t guarantee you

anything.

”So, having that loss last year kind of changed my mindset

about the No. 1 seed, really.”

The Broncos stormed into the playoffs last January riding an

11-game winning streak but lost in double-overtime to Baltimore,

which had stumbled into the playoffs having lost four of five in

December.

In the last decade only two top seeds have won the Super

Bowl.

Anymore, it’s not about who’s the best, but who’s the

hottest.

”Yeah, that’s all that matters,” Harris said. ”Home or away,

you’ve got to play good or you’re going to be bounced out.”

Notes: Manning (rest), WR Wes Welker (concussion) and CB Kayvon

Webster (thumb) didn’t practice.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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