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Playoff-bound Broncos defeat Bills 28-17

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (Dec. 17, 2005) -- With a playoff berth on the line, the Denver Broncos put the ball in Rod Smith 's sure hands.

Smith sparked a sputtering offense, finishing with 11 catches for 137 yards -- both season highs -- and a touchdown in leading Denver to a 28-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

"He's the leader of this team. He's the guy that we all feed off of," linebacker Al Wilson said of the 11-year veteran. "And I'm just happy to be around him."

Added quarterback Jake Plummer: "He's the heart and soul of our offense."

Denver (11-3) secured its third straight playoff berth, and can claim the AFC West title if San Diego loses to Indianapolis Dec. 18. The Broncos also have won 11 games for the first time since 2000.

"That's been our goal from the start," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "It's nice to be in the situation we're in."

Tough to say where the Broncos would've been without Smith, particularly in the first half when Denver's run-first offense was being stuffed by the suddenly stingy Bills.

Smith emerged as the Broncos' most consistent threat, his 119 yards receiving making up more than half of Denver's 210 yards offense in the first half.

Best of all, Smith finally got the Broncos on the board with a 3-yard reception that came on a busted play, tying it at 7 at the end of the second quarter.

Smith scored when he out-jumped safety Troy Vincent, coming down with the ball just inside the end line after Plummer's pass was tipped by linebacker London Fletcher.

Denver then took control in the second half, pulling ahead for good on Wesley Duke's 1-yard touchdown reception -- the first catch of the rookie tight end's career.

Plummer went 20 of 37 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. Mike Anderson sealed the win with 11- and 6-yard touchdown runs in the final 16 minutes, and finished with 97 yards rushing.

The Bills (4-10) closed their home schedule with their fifth straight loss. They have dropped seven of their last eight.

All the troubles -- penalties, failed opportunities and dropped passes -- that have plagued Buffalo all season, were apparent against the Broncos.

After Willis McGahee opened the scoring with a 1-yard touchdown run on Buffalo's opening drive, the Bills settled for three points on their next three drives inside the Broncos 35.

It didn't help that Buffalo was penalized 12 times for 82 yards.

"We can't beat ourselves," quarterback Kelly Holcomb said. "It's just frustrating. We get down there, moving the ball and then something happens. ... It's just been killing us all season and it hurt us again tonight."

Holcomb, a journeyman backup, made his first start in five games in place of J.P. Losman, who hurt his throwing shoulder and left leg in last weekend's 35-7 loss to New England. Holcomb finished 22 of 35 for 202 yards.

Eric Moulds led Buffalo with nine catches for 110 yards, returning to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension last weekend for conduct detrimental to the team. The 10-year veteran, whose future in Buffalo is uncertain beyond this season, could have also been playing his final home game in a Bills uniform.

"We just haven't put it together," Moulds said. "There are teams with less talent than us, but they play well together."

After the Broncos took the lead, their defense came up big in holding the Bills to Rian Lindell's 31-yard field goal on Buffalo's next drive. Linebacker Wilson made a key play, batting down Holcomb's pass intended for Josh Reed over the middle when Buffalo faced third-and-5 at the Denver 13.

Anderson put the Broncos ahead 21-10 on their next possession, capping a nine-play, 70-yard drive.

Plummer described Smith's score as the key one.

"For a half we had some struggles but to get that score before the half and come out the first possession and score was good," Plummer said. "We had to find a way to win, and somehow we found a way."

"The ball wasn't designed to go to me," Smith said, describing the play. "I just made the play, just saw the ball in the air and was trying to make sure if I didn't get it, no one gets it."

Notes: Smith has 1,003 yards for the season, breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the eighth time in nine seasons. With 10,775 yards receiving, Smith also moved into 17th place on the NFL career list, ahead of former New England receiver Stanley Morgan. ... Bills RB Joe Burns scored his first career TD with a 19-yard reception in the final minutes. ... Denver kicker Jason Elam kicked four extra points to give him 102 for the year. He became the first NFL player to score 100 points in each of his first 13 seasons. ... Plummer improved to 30-11 since joining the Broncos in 2003.

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