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Broncos' win over Steelers was 10th this season of 7 points or fewer

| Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, 9:30 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Broncos running back C.J. Anderson eludes the Steelers' Mike Mitchell (left) and Jarvis Jones during the second quarter of an AFC divisional playoff game Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Denver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos don't get tight when their games get that way.

Their 23-16 win over the Steelers on Sunday was their 10th by seven points or fewer, tying the 1978 Houston Oilers for most such triumphs in a single season in NFL history.

With 14 of their games going down to the wire, “we're battled-tested,” defensive end Derek Wolfe said.

“We've been in these situations so many times that you don't even panic anymore,” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “You just know that we're going to come through.”

Against the Steelers, cornerback Bradley Roby forced a fumble for the game's only turnover. DeMarcus Ware recovered, and Peyton Manning drove Denver downfield for its only touchdown with three minutes left.

“That is how it's been all year,” said C.J. Anderson, who punched it in from the 1. “We've had ups and downs. We've struggled, but we keep on battling. Throughout the season we've learned that it's going to take four quarters to beat teams. We're relentless in there. We fight, we grind, we just keep pushing.”

“That kind of has become a theme for us,” coach Gary Kubiak said Monday, “to grind and work and just keep ourselves in position to be successful.”

Roby said playing in so many close games has kept the Broncos cool-headed when the heat is on.

“If you haven't been in a situation like this all season, then when it happens, you start thinking of the wrong things,” Roby said. “We've been here all the time, so it was just that we were going to do our job and make something happen.'”

Denver is 10-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer.

“I think it helps playing a lot of close games during the course of the season, starting with the very first one against Baltimore,” Manning said. “That was a dog fight, grinder and went down to the last drive. If you can be in a lot of those games and win those games, it certainly gives you confidence, and hey, it's playoff football.”

The New England Patriots, who visit Denver for the AFC championship, are 6-3 in games decided by seven points or fewer, including a 30-24 overtime loss to the Broncos on Nov. 29.

On Sunday, Denver's NFL-best defense kept things close until Manning could deliver his 55th comeback in crunch time.

“Our defense has been outstanding all season. They have led us to this point, let's make that clear,” Manning said. “Each game, key defensive players stepped it up, but you have to be a good team to win these playoff games, and you have to win as a team.”

Tight end Owen Daniels called this latest nail-biter “a microcosm of our season.”

“It wasn't pretty. We struggled offensively, but when it really counted, we found a way to put a great drive together and run the ball,” Daniels said. “It's another one of those games we found a way to do it.”

The Broncos (13-4) figure they'll have to play better against the Patriots (13-4). No more blown coverages. Or dropped passes. But they also have a strut borne from pulling out so many close games, a quiet confidence that things will work out and the opponent will crater.

“Our confidence is perfect,” cornerback Aqib Talib said. “We're good. We're playing a team who we beat earlier this year, we're at home, we're healthy. So let's get it.”

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