The Denver Broncos backed into the AFC West title last season while on a three-game losing streak. They didn't back in this time.
The Broncos won their seventh consecutive game Sunday, overcoming a slow start in a 31-23 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to again claim the AFC West. The Broncos have won the division in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1986 and '87.
The 2-3 start and that ugly Monday night in Atlanta now are distant memories. The 9-3 Broncos remain in contention for the top seed in the AFC playoffs, two games behind the 11-1 Houston Texans. The New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens (both 9-3) also are in the hunt.
This was a game the Bucs actually led 10-7 entering the second half. That's when the Broncos took over, turning a close contest into a blowout with 21 unanswered points in the third quarter. The Bucs added some points late, but this was decided when Von Miller -- a serious contender for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors -- picked off a Josh Freeman pass and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
"The hype these guys get, it's well-deserved," Freeman said, via The Associated Press. "They get after it."
Peyton Manning threw three more touchdown passes, giving him 29 in 12 games. As he seems to do every week, Manning made history Sunday. His 28th TD pass set a new Broncos single-season record, breaking a mark previously shared by John Elway and Jake Plummer. Manning now has thrown for at least three touchdowns in seven games this season.
The Broncos just seem to be a cut above most teams right now. If they can secure a bye and have their January opponents come to Denver, look out.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.