CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Bengals booked a place in the NFL playoffs with a 37-28 win against Denver on Dec. 22, with Dre Kirkpatrick returning an interception for a touchdown in the closing minutes to complete a fourth-quarter comeback.
Kirkpatrick’s 30-yard return with 2:41 left capped a game of big plays — long runs, big kick returns and two interceptions run back for scores. With 67 seconds left, Kirkpatrick picked off Peyton Manning to clinch it.
The Bengals (10-4-1) secured a playoff berth for the fourth consecutive season, a franchise record. They’ll play in Pittsburgh Dec. 28 — the last weekend of the regular season — with the winner taking the AFC North title.
Manning rallied the Broncos (11-4) to three touchdowns in the third quarter and the lead, but came up empty in the closing minutes and finished with a season-worst four interceptions. The loss gave New England home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The AFC West champions failed in their attempt to clinch a first-round bye and came away with more questions about Manning, who was limited in practice during the week because of a strained right thigh.
Denver scored 21 points in the third quarter, with Manning throwing a pair of touchdowns to Emmanuel Sanders. With a chance to pull off his 51st game-winning drive in a heavy rain, Manning threw a sideline pass directly to Kirkpatrick, who ran it back untouched.
Manning finished 28-of-44 for 311 yards. He’d been 8-0 career against the Bengals with 20 touchdown passes and only five interceptions. He nearly matched that interception total in one game.