Denver — DeMarcus Ware put the clamps on the loose football and punched Denver's ticket to the playoffs.
"The ball was on the ground and I was feeling like, 'There's no way somebody's going to take this ball from me,'" Ware said after his fumble recovery in overtime sealed Denver's 20-17 victory over Cincinnati on Monday night.
Russell Bodine's catchable shotgun snap eluded AJ McCarron, who was making his second start in place of Andy Dalton. He raced to recover it, but Ware swept past right tackle Andrew Smith and secured Denver's fifth consecutive trip to the postseason.
"Don't know if he took his eyes off it," Bodine said. "We'll get it figured out."
It was just the big play Ware's been looking for ever since missing a month with a bad back.
"Felt great to finish the game that way," Ware said. "We thought we were going to finish it with the field goal but at the end of the game, it's all about that win."
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.
"I'm 24 years old and I don't think I've ever kicked the ball like that in my life: grade school, elementary school, or anything like that," McManus said. "I just wrapped my toe around it and I knew I had to bounce back."
He did, helping the Broncos (11-4) overcome a 14-0 first-half deficit and denying the Bengals (11-4) their first road win on a Monday night since 1990.
"There's an old saying: 'It's not how you start, it's how you finish,'" Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler said. "And this team finished great tonight."
The Bengals blew a chance to earn a bye in the playoffs and move ahead of the New England Patriots in the race for the AFC's top seed.
"We knew what we have in front of us, an opportunity to get the bye," said Carlos Dunlap, who collected all three sacks of Osweiler. "It is what it is now. Now we're going to move on."
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.
Now, the Broncos can earn the top seed in the AFC with a win over San Diego and a loss by New England at Miami next weekend.
"We've won in a lot of ways this year," Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. "Overtime, game-winning field goals, blocked field goals, strips, fumble recoveries. When you get down to the playoffs you're going to need all those type of wins."
McManus has missed a kick in five consecutive games, and this one wasn't even close. It sailed wide left — missing the protective netting — to the astonishment of 74,511 fans even though the flags atop the goal posts revealed a complete lack of wind.
The relieved Bengals called tails but 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. Osweiler, making his sixth straight start in place of Peyton Manning, played with a sore left shoulder and banged his left elbow in the frenetic final minutes but stayed in.
"Coming into the game, I was a little bit banged up. Coming out of the game I'm a little bit banged up. But that's football," said Osweiler, who will get the start against the Chargers next week, too.
McCarron drove the Bengals on two long first-half drives, covering 80 and 90 yards and eating up a total of 16:24 to put Cincinnati ahead 14-0. He threw a 5-yard TD pass to A.J. Green and Mohamed Sanu scooted in from 6 yards out on a direct snap.
After that, he found it tough to sustain drives against Denver's defense, which is ranked No. 1 against both the run and the pass and held McCarron to 200 yards passing and the Bengals to 3.3 yards a carry.
The Broncos pulled to 14-3 at halftime on McManus' short field goal, and the Broncos came out in hurry-up mode and were a different team in the second half — a reversal of last week at Pittsburgh, where they jumped out to a 17-point lead but were outscored 24-0 after the break.
Osweiler connected with Sanders on a short TD throw for Denver's first third-quarter points since Nov. 8 at Indianapolis, and C.J. Anderson gave the Broncos their first lead when he broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run with 11:17 remaining.
After Mike Nugent's 52-yard field goal tied it with 6:45 remaining, the Broncos twice drove to the Bengals 26 only to come away empty, once on Anderson's fumble and then on McManus' miss.
"We told him if you get another chance take advantage of it and he did," Demaryius Thomas said. "That's what won the game."
That, and Ware's huge play moments later.
Browns coach Mike Pettine hadn't seen the latest viral online video featuring quarterback Johnny Manziel when he spoke to reporters Monday afternoon during a conference call, but the mere existence of the footage worries the coach.
A video showing Manziel rapping along to a hip-hop song while holding a beverage can surfaced on the Yeti Campus Stories app this past weekend and was transferred to Instagram. BustedCoverage.com later picked up the video, and its circulation became rampant.
In the video, it looks as if Manziel is holding a 23.5-ounce can of black cherry Four Loko, a malt beverage that contains 12 percent alcohol by volume. Manziel, 23, spent more than 10 weeks this past offseason in an inpatient rehabilitation facility specializing in alcohol and drug addiction treatment.
Another person in the video can definitely be seen holding a can of lemonade Four Loko and drinking from what appears to be a beer bottle.
"Anytime there's something with our players that casts them potentially in a bad light whether it's Johnny or any of our other guys, it's certainly a concern," Pettine said. "I'm sure I'll see it. I'll have a discussion with him about it."
Pettine demoted Manziel from starter to third string on Nov. 24 after he partied during a bye-week break, then lied to the Browns about it. The world became aware of Manziel's revelry during that brief vacation because a video surfaced online showing him holding a large bottle while singing and dancing in an Austin, Texas, nightclub. Manziel spent two games on the bench before being re-inserted into the starting lineup.
It's no secret Manziel has consumed alcohol since leaving rehab. After all, he told Avon, Ohio, police he had been drinking during the day before an in-car fight with girlfriend Colleen Crowley on Oct. 12.
In the latest video, Manziel appears to be in a house, perhaps his home in suburban Cleveland, as opposed to a bar.
Asked whether the most recent video could prompt him to bench Manziel again, Pettine said, "I don't have all the information on it, and I'm just not going to comment on it at this time 'cause I don't have all the facts with it."
Cleveland (3-12) will finish its season Sunday at home against Pittsburgh (9-6).
Raiders fullback Marcel Reece was suspended four games without pay for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.
The league announced the ban less than a week after Reece was named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl. Reece will miss the season finale Sunday against Kansas City, the Pro Bowl and the first three games in 2016.
... Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer (Michigan State) is in the last phase of the NFL's concussion protocol and will start Sunday against the Jaguars if he is cleared to play.
... The Colts have put Charlie Whitehurst on injured reserve, leaving recently signed Stephen Morris as their only healthy quarterback.
... Chargers safety Eric Weddle was fined $10,000 by the team for remaining on the sideline at halftime Dec. 20 to watch his daughter dance in a program sponsored by the cheerleaders, agent David Canter said.