ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A day after the first-round clinching 47-14 win over the Raiders, we look back at some of the notable accomplishments from the victory.
HAT TRICKS GALORE
For the second time in four weeks -- and the second consecutive home game -- C.J. Anderson plowed across the goal line three times. After dealing with an ankle injury lately and averaging 3.3 yards per carry in Weeks 14-16, Anderson put up 87 yards on 13 carries to go with three scores on Sunday.
"My ankles are a lot better so I got that pop back in them," he said. "But, you have to give it to the big boys (offensive lineman). I can't get to the second level unless they carry the first two."
Anderson's best run was his third score of the day, when the linemen's strong push on a stretch to the left allowed him to cutback behind Louis Vasquez and explode through three tackles before waltzing into the end zone. The 25-yard TD came just 52 seconds into the second half and put the Broncos up 27-7, a commanding lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"As an offense we were clicking on all cylinders and when we're like that, these are the games we can have," Anderson said.
The touchdown hat trick is Anderson's second of the season -- he accomplished the feat against Buffalo in Week 14 -- and it's the fifth time a Bronco has reached that total in a game this season, all five of which have come at home. Julius Thomas opened the season by beating three different defenders for touchdown catches against the Colts in Week 1. Emmanuel Sanders grabbed three TDs against the Chargers in Week 8 and Demaryius Thomas pulled in three himself against the Dolphins in Week 12.
The 2013 Broncos, who set a record for touchdowns in a season with 76, had three such performances. That season, Knowshon Moreno (Week 6 vs. Jacksonville), Demaryius Thomas (Week 10 at San Diego), Eric Decker (Week 13 at Kansas City) each turned the trick, with Decker adding a fourth TD for good measure.
TD CONNECTION FOR CAREER FIRSTS
While a few Broncos have routinely found themselves in the end zone in recent years, a pair of young players came through late in Sunday's game to put their first career touchdowns on the board.
Brock Osweiler had attempted only 28 passes in his career and Virgil Green had 20 career receptions before Sunday. But the duo made their limited opportunities in the fourth quarter count, connecting on two passes for 39 yards. First, facing third-and-10 from the Oakland 44, Osweiler looked down the seam for Green and hit him for a 38-yard gain down to the 6.
After a 5-yard run and another run for no gain, Denver faced third-and-goal from the 1 and a pass was called. Green ran a quick out to the right side, just inside the goal line, and Osweiler fired it into his hands. Celebration ensued.
"It's been a long time since I've scored and I'm really appreciative, real happy," Green said after the game. Laughing, he noted that he's going to hang on to the ball for himself: "I've got to take that one. I've got to take that one from Brock. He can take his next one."
Osweiler was thrilled as well, but was fine giving the ball to Green, pointing out that the tight end "waited for it longer." Besides, Osweiler should have plenty of chances for more some day.
"I'm glad we got it out of the way and hopefully there's a lot more to come," Osweiler said Monday. "It's just such an exciting moment. I know it was Virgil's first touchdown as well and he's put so much work into this organization and into his career, and the same goes for myself, so to go out there and have a little fun at the end of the game really put a cap on the season."
BOLDEN'S EXPLOSIVENESS CONTINUES**
For the second consecutive week, Omar Bolden showed his dynamic ability as a kick returner by nearly scoring a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half. Last week in Cincinnati, Bolden took the kick after halftime from the Broncos' 2-yard line and went 77 yards the other way before being caught at the Bengals' 21. Sunday against the Raiders, Bolden found a seam again and raced down the sideline before being shoved just enough by Sebastian Janikowski to be knocked out of bounds.
Since taking on more kickoff returns against the Dolphins in Week 12, Bolden has three returns of 40 or more yards in 12 attempts and is averaging 33.0 yards per kickoff return on the season. Now with huge returns in back-to-back games, the third-year DB is a dangerous weapon who teams will have to account for in the postseason.
NAVIGATING A TOUGH SLATE
Some who don't follow closely might look at the 13-3 records from the 2012 and 2013 seasons and the 12-4 record in 2014 and say the Broncos have regressed, if only slightly, this season. But that argument wouldn't hold any weight.
While a team can only play the schedule before them, the Broncos faced significantly easier slates in each of the previous two seasons than they did this year. Denver tied for the fourth-easiest schedule (based on opponent win percentage) in 2012 (.457) and had the fifth-easiest in 2013 (.469). It's natural for good teams to accumulate weaker strengths of schedule over the course of a season, simply because every win brings down opponents' winning percentage.
But in 2014, with just four games against teams that finished with losing records, the Broncos faced the seventh-toughest schedule (.521) in the league, coming in just behind a cluster of all four NFC West teams. Among teams that reached the playoffs, only the Cardinals (.523) and Seahawks (.525) played tougher schedules.
Despite that, Denver finished 12-4 and ranks in the top five in a number of meaningful categories:
On offense, points (second), yards per game (fourth), yards per play (third), passing yards per game (fourth), passing yards per play (fourth), sacks per pass attempt (first), first downs per game (first) and red-zone TD percentage (fourth).
On defense, yards per game (third), yards per play (second), rushing yards per game (second), rushing yards per play (fourth), passing yards per play (first), third-down percentage (fifth).
On top of a tough schedule for the Broncos, the NFL showed more parity this season, without any team posting a high win total and pulling away from the league. Five teams finished with 12 wins but none finished with 13 or more. The last time every team in the NFL finished with 12 wins or fewer was in 2002, when the Eagles, Packers and Buccaneers each went 12-4.
Check out the action from the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Check out the action from an explosive second half in Denver, where the Broncos coasted to a 47-14 win.