Following a Super Bowl appearance, the Broncos had one of the toughest 2014 regular-season slates in the NFL. They finished the season with a 12-4 record and with their fourth-consecutive AFC West title.
This season resulted in the Broncos' third perfect divisional record in team history and they were undefeated at home for the sixth time in franchise history.
With the Broncos set to host a playoff game for the fourth consecutive year, we take a look back at the 2014 regular season, quarter-by-quarter.
The Broncos began the season in prime time against the Colts, who topped the Broncos in Indianapolis in 2013. But the Broncos were able to win their season opener behind Peyton Manning's 269-yard, three touchdown performance. With the win, Manning became just the second quarterback in NFL history to defeat all 32 teams.
"I think it means you have to be old," Manning said of beating every NFL team. "You have to be 38 years old probably at least to beat all 32 teams. I don't think I will have that one up on my mantle or anything like that to put it that way."
Julius Thomas continued his Pro Bowl-performance level and had three touchdowns while DeMarcus Ware gave a glimpse of his future impact on the team and notched 1.5 sacks.
Manning had his second-consecutive three-touchdown game in the Broncos' first divisional win of the season, defeating the Chiefs at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Emmanuel Sanders, one of the Broncos' offseason acquisitions, had his first 100-yard game of his career in the win.
The defense again closed out the game, this time on Terrance Knighton's pass deflection at the line of scrimmage on fourth down in the closing minutes.
The Broncos hit the road for a Super Bowl rematch, taking on the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. Down 17-3 at the half, the Broncos mounted a comeback behind a Julius Thomas' touchdown catch and a Jacob Tamme 26-yard TD reception with 18 seconds left in the game to tie it. But the Seahawks got the ball to start overtime and drove down the field with relative ease and Marshawn Lynch had the game-winning score. The Broncos followed the loss with a bye in Week 4.
The Broncos finished the first quarter of the season with one of their best all-around performances of the season against the Cardinals, notching more career benchmarks as Manning recorded his 500th touchdown pass of his career and Wes Welker passed Rod Smith for most catches by an undrafted player with the 854th reception of his career.
But the story of the night was Demaryius Thomas' breakout game. His first three games of the season went by with little fanfare and just 141 yards on 13 catches and one TD. But during this game, Thomas set a single-game franchise record with 226 receiving yards on eight catches and two touchdowns. His 86-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter was the fourth-longest catch in team history. The team as a whole set a single-game total yardage record with 568 yards.
Thomas didn't consider his first three games a "slump" but he hadn't experienced a similar lack of production in his career to that point. During the bye week preceding that game, he put in extra work and it paid off heavily.
"Before we went on bye week, I came in one Monday before everybody and caught like 250 balls," Thomas said after the game. "Every game I had drops—and not like I am used to that—so I came in and caught balls. Throughout the week once we got back to practice, I tried to do a little more than what I usually to do. I did that and my team is behind me, my coaches are behind me and they stayed on me and I came out and had a great game."
PASSING TOUCHDOWN RECORD FALLS
The Broncos began the second quarter of the season with a 31-17 win over the Jets on the road. The Broncos fought off to a slow start in the game and finished the first quarter down 7-3. But Ronnie Hillman rushed for 100 yards in his first career start, Julius Thomas had two TDs and Aqib Talib sealed the win with a 22-yard interception returned for a touchdown.
In prime time, the Broncos topped the 49ers in convincing fashion with a 42-17 win. In the second quarter of the game, Manning set the NFL's all-time passing touchdown record with his 509th scoring pass, passing Brett Favre.
"Throwing touchdowns—scoring touchdowns is what you try to do as an offense to help your team win," Manning said. "You're winning 10-7 or 42-10 or whatever, it's your job to try and score more points than them. That's how you win football games and protecting the ball and making good decisions. There's no question it's a team effort and it's a team record because it's helped us win a lot of football games throughout my career.
"I think it's different when you're talking about yards or something else but I do think, for me, that the touchdowns that I've thrown have helped us win a lot of football games and put a lot of work winning those games. That's the only reason why it's somewhat special."
The Broncos got their second win over an AFC West rival in Week 8 as the Broncos topped the Chargers. Despite gaining 473 receiving yards through the Broncos' first six games, Emmanuel Sanders had only been able to get in the end zone once. But he broke out for 120 yards and three touchdowns – the first multiple-touchdown game of his career.
"Of course, that's the reason why I came here," Sanders said of his decision to join the Broncos. "Obviously this is a great organization, with a great head coach [John Fox] and Peyton Manning at the helm. When I entered the free agency process, I said I wanted to go to a team that is going to spread the football around, and that's going to throw it because that's what I was used to in college at SMU [with] June Jones. I'm just happy to be a part of it, obviously, and hopefully we just keep throwing the football."
The Broncos finished the first half of the season with a 43-21 loss to the Patriots in Foxborough.
DEVELOPING A NEW IDENTITY
The Broncos' offensive line took a significant shift before the Broncos' Week 10 matchup in Oakland as Will Montgomery took over at center, Manny Ramirez shifted to right guard and Louis Vasquez moved to right tackle. Peyton Manning threw five TDs and C.J. Anderson had a career-high 90 rushing yards on 13 carries. His 51-yard TD catch-and-run was one of the best plays of the year and the Broncos defeated the Raiders, 41-17.
This game would be a preview of what was to come for Anderson, who stepped in and thrived as Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman missed significant time due to injuries.
From Chris Harris' first sack of the season to C.J. Anderson's three touchdowns, check out the shots of the game from Sunday's win over the Bills.
The Broncos suffered their second loss in three weeks when they fell to the Rams, 22-7. Von Miller earned his tenth sack of the season and Brandon Marshall totaled a career-best 15 tackles.
Anderson led the way as the Broncos got back to their winning ways against the Dolphins, as he totaled 167 rushing yards and one TD to set a team single-game rushing record for an undrafted player. The Broncos were down by 11 points in the fourth quarter, but the team was able to overcome the deficit with 22 fourth-quarter points. Demaryius Thomas had his second three-touchdown game of his career.
The Broncos used a balanced offense to control the clock and provide a one-two punch on offense, a theme that would continue as the season went on.
"I think it was pretty much an emphasis this week and I think we ran the ball much more efficiently," Fox said after the game. "I think we were better in the red area because of that, I think we were 5-of-7 in the red area. Third-down [percentage] was very high up there, because it was manageable. When you're able to have that balance I think it helps everybody's efforts."
The Broncos finished the third quarter of the season in dominating fashion, defeating the Chiefs 29-16 in Arrowhead in another prime-time matchup. The Broncos got off to a quick start, going up 17-0 by the middle of the second quarter. Anderson continued spearheading the Broncos' ground game with a career-high 168 yards on 32 carries.
In his debut as a Bronco, Connor Barth hit all five field goals attempts, tying Jason Elam and Rich Karlis as the only players to make five field goals in a game without a missed attempt in franchise history. The Broncos defense held the Chiefs to three three-and-outs to start the game, allowing a season-low 151 yards and holding Kansas City to a 1-of-9 success rate on third downs. DeMarcus Ware posted his 127th career sack and his third-career interception.
"We've been preaching 'Right off the bat, right off the bat.' Let's put the pressure on them from the first drive when we got a three-and-out and then we got another three-and-out and then we got them out of their rhythm," Von Miller said. "We just played how we've been practicing all year long."
DIVISION CHAMPS… AGAIN
While the third quarter of the season showed Anderson's emergence, his three-touchdown performance led the Broncos to a 24-17 victory over the Bills and their stout defense. The Broncos' defense put on a show again, forcing three turnovers for the second week in a row.
Bradley Roby had his second forced fumble of the season and Brandon Marshall recorded the first interception of his career. This win gave the Broncos their 16th season with 10-plus wins in Pat Bowlen's 31 years as the owner.
The Broncos came into San Diego with the opportunity to clinch their fourth consecutive AFC West title and they did so in convincing fashion, defeating the Chargers, 22-10. The win was the Broncos' 12th-straight divisional road game win, and Fox became the second head coach in NFL history to lead a team to a division title in each of his first four seasons at the helm.
See the best moments captured from Sunday's AFC West-sealing victory in sunny San Diego.
Though Manning was ill, he threw for 233 and one touchdown, surpassing 4,000 passing yards on the season for the 14th time in his career. Demaryius Thomas posted his eight 100-yard game of the season and Barth, once again, made five-of-five field goals.
Aqib Talib was the leader on the defense with eight tackles and an interception with three passes defensed in a performance that would earn him the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award.
"It was a playoff game for them," Talib said after the game. "It was a championship game for us, and we definitely played like that. It's the first goal we were trying to accomplish for the season. We got our first championship of the season."
The Bengals were one of a handful of teams that Manning was undefeated against, but the Broncos fell to Cincinnati on Monday Night Football, 37-28. With the Broncos hobbled by injuries on defense, specifically at linebacker, Bengals running back Jeremy Hill ran for 147 yards and Andy Dalton threw for two touchdowns and 146 yards. On the Broncos' side, Sanders had two scores while Demaryius Thomas accumulated 115 receiving yards.
The Broncos returned home for their final game of the season, taking on the Raiders who had won three of their last five games. But the Broncos trounced the Raiders, 47-14, earning the AFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the postseason.
Demaryius Thomas was able to set a new team record with 1,619 receiving yards – topping Rod Smith's previous record of 1,602 yards. That game was Thomas' 10th 100-yard receiving game of the season. Von Miller recorded his 14th sack of the season in the first quarter, good for fourth in team history for a single season.
While the Broncos finished 2014 on a positive note, but the work is far from over.
"We expected to be where we are right now at the beginning of the season," Terrance Knighton said. "Now it's time to put the words aside and go out and show it with our actions. We've been talking about it all offseason—it's been motivating us through the offseason workouts, camp, and then early in the season. So, right now, it's about business. It's a new season—our Pro Bowl players, our big players on the team—it's time for them in the new season to step up and take this thing by the horns."