“After I spiked it, I was, like, ‘Uh, oh, where’d it go?” Unrein said. “Luckily, I got it back.”
Unrein’s hit on Freeman in the third quarter also resulted in a touchdown — this time, from Miller, who went 26 yards to make it 28-10. It was Miller’s first career score and he celebrated by doing his dance thing, not in the backfield, but this time in the other team’s end zone.
“When I got my hands on it, I felt like I only had some O-linemen in front of me,” Miller said. “I felt like my odds were pretty good.”
Before the Miller TD, this was a game.
Late in the first quarter, Freeman found Mike Williams in single coverage down the middle for a 40-yard gain. Martin followed with a 7-yard run, then another for 5, then Freeman found Manning’s old buddy in Indianapolis, Dallas Clark, for an 11-yard touchdown and a 10-7 lead.
But when the teams came out after halftime, Denver was a different team.
“The hype these guys get, it’s well deserved,” Freeman said. “They get after it. The front four, they do a good job of timing their blitzes. The Denver defense played a great game today.”
Manning wasn’t bad, either. With his ninth completion, he surpassed Dan Marino for second on the all-time completions list. He now has 4,986.
On the second drive of the third quarter, Manning completed three passes on a quick, 52-yard touchdown drive for a 14-10 lead, capping it with an 8-yard pass to Thomas, who had a sliver of space in the back of the end zone.
After a three-and-out, Manning did it again, starting a 57-yard drive with a 14-yard pass to Tamme and capping it five plays later with a 10-yard score to Thomas, who beat double coverage.
“What I liked about the second touchdown was that Demaryius was seeing the same thing I was seeing,”Manning said. “We had another route on. We changed it at the line. We were thinking along the same lines. I like to see the communication, the growth.”
After the early touchdown drive, Freeman never got comfortable again.
He finished 18 for 39 for 242 yards. He led the Bucs on a 47-yard touchdown drive that made the score 31-23 with 2:33 left. Denver recovered the onside kick and lined up in victory formation twice. Schiano, as is his wont, had his players challenge those plays, which led to some scrapping, but no coach-to-coach conflict the way Giants coach Tom Coughlin confronted Schiano under similar circumstances earlier this year.
“We were prepared for it,” Broncos coach John Fox said.
Notes: Broncos K Matt Prater missed from 47 yards, making him 2 for 5 from 40 to 49 yards this season and 15 for 17 from everywhere else, including 3 for 4 from 50-plus. … Martin was held under 60 yards for the second straight week. … Matthew Willis, getting playing time that would’ve gone to injured Brandon Stokley, had three catches for 22 yards.