Broncos clinch playoff spot as Peyton Manning lights up Titans
Peyton Manning and Matt Prater were more about big numbers than the little one Sunday.
As in, an NFL-record 64-yard field goal to go along with 39 completions, 397 yards passing and, of course, 51 points.
That the temperature was only 18 degrees at kickoff and only 14 when Prater kicked his way to one of the most iconic records in the game felt more annoying than anything. Same for the opponent — the Tennessee Titans, who fought gamely for a half before falling 51-28 on Sunday to the Broncos, who clinched a playoff berth.
As for all those doubts about Manning’s abilities in the cold: "I won’t try to answer it because I didn’t give it any validation in the first place," said the quarterback, who is now 4-7 in games where the temperature is 32 or below at kickoff.
The cold certainly didn’t bother Prater, who lashed his 64-yarder through the icy air on the last play of the first half. Yes, it was at altitude in Denver, same as two of the four 63-yarders from years past.
"But I think the 10-degree weather takes out the altitude," Prater said.
Manning’s 39 completions set a team record. His 59 attempts matched a franchise high. His seven games this year with at least four touchdowns are the most in NFL history. He’s now in the playoffs for the 13th time, which breaks a record for a quarterback that he shared with Brett Favre. Manning led the Broncos (11-2) past the 50-point mark for the third time this year, the first time a team has done that since the NFL merger in 1970.
The Broncos ran a whopping 91 plays on offense, giving them plenty of chances to eat away at a 21-10 second-quarter deficit.
"We were doing well at the beginning, but they took off like a rocket," Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner said.
Despite the gaudy numbers, Manning and Prater were about the only Broncos clicking on all cylinders on the day coach John Fox rejoined the team and coached from the sideline after missing four games because of heart surgery.
The special teams gave up a 95-yard kickoff return — the second return of 90-plus it has allowed in the last two games.
The Titans (5-8) burned the Denver defense a few times early, most notably when Ryan Fitzpatrick (13 for 24, 172 yards) picked on rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster on the first drive for a 57-yard completion to Justin Hunter that set up the game’s first touchdown.
There were about a half-dozen dropped passes and the Broncos had a whale of a time punching the ball in from the 1. They needed 11 snaps from that distance to get two touchdowns and a field goal.
Those struggles turned Prater’s record-setting attempt into much more than a theatrical flourish, which is what most field goals are for a team that has now put up 515 points through 13 games.
Denver had cut its deficit to 21-17 and a penalty forced Manning to start from his 15 with 52 seconds left in the first half. An 18-yard pass to Demaryius Thomas got the ball near midfield with 7 seconds left. Then Manning completed a quick 7-yarder to Jacob Tamme, who went out of bounds with 3 seconds.
On came Prater. With steam pouring from his mouth, he lined up on the right hash mark at the Denver 46, just a few steps over from the eye of the Broncos logo. The kick cleared the crossbar with a bit of room to spare, and holder Britton Colquitt jumped piggyback onto the kicker to celebrate.
"I think I just said, `Kick it as hard as you can,’" Colquitt said. "I didn’t want to put that bug in, `Hey, this is the record.’"
Prater broke the mark held by four kickers, set first in 1970 by Tom Dempsey and most recently matched by David Akers, whose kick last season in Green Bay bounced on the crossbar before going over.
Manning led the Broncos on an 80-yard scoring drive to open the third quarter and the Broncos didn’t trail again.
And speaking of big numbers: The quarterback’s 4,522 yards and 45 touchdowns this season remain on pace to break the NFL records of 5,476 and 50.
NOTES: The Broncos dedicated the press box to longtime public-relations man Jim Saccomano, who is retiring after the season. … Titans WR Justin Hunter cracked the 100-yard mark for the second time in three weeks, finishing with four catches for 115 yards. … Knowshon Moreno and Wes Welker each reached double digits in touchdowns Sunday and the Broncos became the first team to have four players score 10 or more in a season.