ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If Miami Dolphins defensive back Michael Thomas ever starts a fan club, he won’t have any trouble getting a Denver chapter up and going.
Thomas’ interception of Tom Brady’s pass in the end zone on fourth down with 2 seconds left Sunday in his NFL debut preserved Miami’s win that kept the New England Patriots from overtaking Denver in the race for the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
So, the Broncos (11-3), who lost at home to San Diego on Thursday night, find themselves with the ultimate reboot after their weekend furlough from football.
“Of course it feels better to control your own destiny,” run-stuffer Terrance Knighton said Monday. “But you don’t want any (more) scares like that. We want teams to come through Denver. The good thing is we’re in control of that again and we’ve got to handle our business. Because, having the same record as the Chiefs, we also want to win our division.”
That’s because if Kansas City wins the AFC West, the Broncos fall from the first seed to the fifth, behind all the other division winners no matter their records.
Because they swept the Chiefs, the Broncos own the tiebreaker, so all they have to do is win road games at Houston and Oakland, which have a combined 6-22 record, and they’ll secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC and a first-round bye for the second straight season.
The Broncos’ mood, so glum after their stunning 27-20 loss to the Chargers last week, matched the unseasonably warm weather Monday.
“I think it’s a little brighter because we know what we’ve got to do to get home-field advantage: we’ve just got to keep winning,” receiver Bubba Caldwell said. “Even though we lost, we’re still in the same position that we were in before that game. Now, we don’t have to watch New England and some of these other teams and see what they’re doing. We’ve just got to handle our business and everything will fall in place.”
The Broncos figure their long weekend gave them a chance to clear their heads and heal their bodies.
“Yeah, I call it a mini-bye,” Caldwell said.
Denver’s loss was a harbinger of a wild weekend in which four more division leaders were beaten, including the Cincinnati Bengals, whose loss to Pittsburgh prevented them from overtaking New England for second place in the playoff positioning.
“Some crazy football yesterday,” receiver Eric Decker said. “Fortunately, we’re still No. 1 in our conference and we’ve got two weeks left to make sure we keep it that way. We’ve got to come out stronger this week against Houston, play better all-around to make sure to control our own destiny.”
Fox said the slew of upsets provided a good caveat.
“You’d just better have your ‘A’ game ready. I think it’s a great example of that,” he said. “You look at the top three seeds, including us, losing, and all to division teams that maybe weren’t really high in the standings. I think it just goes to show you on any given Sunday, you’d better be ready to play.”
At least one Bronco insists he isn’t worried about when or where the Broncos’ playoff journey begins.
“I mean, we’re definitely happy New England was able to lose so we’re able to get first place. But I’m really looking at it like it doesn’t really matter what seed we get anymore,” cornerback Chris Harris said. “My mindset is either way we go, home or away, we’ve got to be at our best in the playoffs. We’ve seen that happen last year, getting the No. 1 seed, it doesn’t guarantee you anything.
“So, having that loss last year kind of changed my mindset about the No. 1 seed, really.”
The Broncos stormed into the playoffs last January riding an 11-game winning streak but lost in double-overtime to Baltimore, which had stumbled into the playoffs having lost four of five in December.
In the last decade only two top seeds have won the Super Bowl.
Anymore, it’s not about who’s the best, but who’s the hottest.
“Yeah, that’s all that matters,” Harris said. “Home or away, you’ve got to play good or you’re going to be bounced out.”