DeMarcus Ware beat AJ McCarron to a fumbled snap in overtime, sending the Denver Broncos into the playoffs with a 20-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday night.
Ware’s recovery followed a 37-yard field goal by Brandon McManus, whose shanked 45-yarder at the end of regulation made necessary the extra drama.
The Broncos (11-4) overcame a 14-0 first-half deficit in clinching their fifth consecutive playoff berth and denying the Bengals (11-4) their first road win on a Monday night since 1990.
Denver can earn the top seed in the AFC with a win over San Diego and a loss by New England at Miami next weekend.
Denver, which was in danger of becoming the first team since the 1970 merger to miss the playoffs after starting 10-2, snapped a two-game skid with its third overtime win of the season.
McManus has missed a kick in five consecutive games, and this one wasn’t even close. It sailed wide left to the astonishment of 74,511 fans even though the flags atop the goal posts revealed a complete lack of wind.
The Bengals called tails and the coin landed heads.
Unlike Patriots coach Bill Belichick a day earlier, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak chose to receive, and Denver drove 60 yards in 13 plays. Both Emmanuel Sanders and Owen Daniels limped off during the drive.
Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler, making his sixth straight start in place of Peyton Manning, also banged an elbow in the frenetic final minutes but stayed in.
McManus then redeemed himself by splitting the uprights from 37 yards out 5 minutes into the extra period.
Then, it was up to the league’s best defense to seal the deal.
There was an incompletion on first down that the Broncos felt should have been a fumble by McCarron with Derek Wolfe recovering the ball as it skittered downfield, but a review upheld the ruling. Incomplete.
Second-and-10 from the Bengals 33.
Center Russell Bodine’s shotgun snap sailed past McCarron, making his second start in place of Andy Dalton, and Ware beat him to the loose football.