The Denver Broncos defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 31-23 on Sunday afternoon for their third straight victory. With the win, the Broncos remained a game ahead of the San Diego Chargers in the AFC West – including holding the tiebreaker for now – as well as keeping pace with the New England Patriots for the third seed in the AFC conference, as both teams stand at a record of 5-3.
Even though the Broncos – and by Broncos, I mean Peyton Manning – had two costly interceptions that could have turned the tide of the game, Denver had an impressive victory over a team that is coming off of a playoff appearance from the previous season in the Bengals (3-5). It's true that the Broncos have yet to defeat a truly 'elite' team this season. In Denver's five victories, they have defeated the likes of the Steelers, Raiders, Chargers, Saints and Bengals.
Outside of the Steelers, all of the above teams listed are either sub .500 or below.
However, it is hard not to be impressive by Denver's recent stretch. Manning has made it a regularity of throwing for 300+ yards and three touchdowns. In this game, he came up a little short of that mark, as he did throw for three touchdown passes, but fell nine yards short of 300 yards. It would have been his fifth straight game reaching such totals, which would have tied Steve Young's NFL record.
The story of this game was how Manning once again dissected the Bengals defense. Outside of his early season struggles, Manning has been on fire. He looks about every bit the quarterback that he's always been. Manning's fourth quarter comeback conversion on Sunday was the 48th of his career, which is the most in NFL history.
The Broncos defense held up well, despite two turnovers by the offense. They harassed Andy Dalton all day in sacking him five times – three of which was by Von Miller alone – including the game-changing interception thrown to Champ Bailey with a little over three minutes left remaining. With the turnover, Manning succeeded in driving the Broncos down the field for the game-clinching touchdown pass to Eric Decker.
Until the Broncos face the Ravens in Week 15, we may not know for sure whether the Broncos are an elite team.
But considering their latest stretch of play, an argument can easily be made that Denver certainly is an elite team after their Week 9 showing.
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