DENVER (AP) – If he wants, Peyton Manning can use all that time at home to crank up the DVD player and watch the highlights.
What a set he put together for himself and his acrobatic receivers on Sunday.
Manning and the Denver Broncos wrapped up home-field advantage through the AFC playoffs with a predictable 38-3 runaway over the Kansas City Chiefs – a win punctuated by a pair of touchdown passes as nifty as any of the 37 Manning threw this year for his new team, which closed the regular season on an 11-game win streak.
Touchdown No. 1 was a ball slightly overthrown to Eric Decker. He brought the ball into his helmet with his left hand, had it pinball against his facemask twice, then cradled it with both hands as he was falling to the ground.
Touchdown No. 2 was thrown high to Demaryius Thomas, who leaped in the back of the end zone, snatched it with his right hand and got his feet down inside the line.
That score made it 28-3 and the celebration was on. The only trip the Broncos (13-3) will have to make on their road to a championship would be to New Orleans for the Super Bowl. They’ll open the playoffs at home the weekend of Jan. 12-13.
Coach John Fox, in search of his second trip to the Super Bowl, won his 100th career game. Thomas and linebacker Wesley Woodyard congratulated him with a big splash of orange Gatorade at the end.
Manning, in search of his fifth MVP award and, yes, a second Super Bowl title, finished 23 for 29 for 304 yards, three scores and a 144.8 passer rating. Those stats easily could’ve been padded had he played the fourth quarter.
But there was no need for that for a quarterback, and a team, with much bigger things in front of them.
Thanks to Houston’s 28-16 loss to Indianapolis in a game that ended before the Broncos kicked off, Denver will be the top seed in the conference for the sixth time. The Broncos made the Super Bowl four of the previous five times.
This marked the 73rd three-touchdown game for Manning, surpassing the record held by Brett Favre. Manning closed the regular season with 4,659 yards, only 41 short of his career high.
Jamaal Charles ran for 53 yards for the Chiefs (2-14), who finished with a total of 119 yards of offense and wrapped up the first pick in next year’s draft.
Coach Romeo Crennel watched the game from the sideline, leaning on a crutch, after having his knee drained of fluid earlier in the week. Many in Kansas City expect him to be unemployed soon.
Though the Chiefs gave the Broncos as tough a tussle as anyone during their winning streak – in a 17-9 loss last month – this wasn’t expected to be much of a game. It wasn’t.
Leave it to Manning to ramp up the degree of difficulty.
Last week in an equally easy win against the Browns, he threw a pair of touchdown passes – one to Decker, one to Thomas – that the receivers snatched out of nearly perfect coverage. Manning said he was happy with those plays because he put the passes where only the receivers could catch them, and they did.
This time, he almost threw both balls out of everyone’s range.
Decker’s one-hand-to-helmet grab late in the second quarter was a 16-yard TD that gave Denver a 21-3 lead. It highlighted a seven-catch, 76-yard, two-touchdown day for the third-year receiver. It almost certainly would’ve been the top highlight had it not been for the Manning-to-Thomas connection on the first drive of the third quarter.
That 13-yard score had shades of Montana-to-Clark: thrown high in the back of the end zone where only the 6-foot-3 receiver could catch it. He saw the ball coming, situated himself for the leap, jumped high and grabbed the ball with his right hand, cradling it into his body. Thomas finished with seven catches for 122 yards.
– By Eddie Pells, AP National Writer
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