Manning in Full

What did we learn from the Broncos’ beatdown of Baltimore in the season opener? That Peyton Manning is as phenomenal as ever, and that Denver is scary good

Not since Joe Kapp in 1969, before the AFL-NFL merger, had a quarterback thrown for seven touchdowns. (Joe Mahoney/AP)
Not since Joe Kapp in 1969, before the AFL-NFL merger, had a quarterback thrown for seven touchdowns. (Joe Mahoney/AP)

DENVER — Long after the East Coast went to bed Thursday night, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning flipped a short throw to his left to Demaryius Thomas, and Thomas sprinted up the left seam 78 yards for the touchdown, leaving six Baltimore Ravens flailing at him. That was it: the seventh touchdown pass on a historic night—another historic night for Manning; how many more of these does a man with four scars on his neck have left?

Seven touchdown passes. The most in his 16-year career, and the most in an NFL game since the AFL-NFL merger. “You’re just sitting there like, ‘That was seven?’ Because he goes so nonchalantly about it,’’ said a man seeing it up close for the first time, Wes Welker. To celebrate, Manning went to the Denver sideline, took a few way-to-gos from happy teammates, then found offensive coordinator Adam Gase next to the Broncos’ bench area.

The pictures. Peyton Manning wanted to see the pictures—what the Baltimore defense had shown on the short series, how his line had blocked it, and what had made the hole for Thomas so big so fast. It was 49-27 very late in the fourth quarter, and Peyton Manning wanted to see the pictures.

When the Broncos dove into the Peyton Manning free agency sweepstakes 18 months ago, could they have really known what they were getting? No one knew how good he’d be, what his physical limitations might be after his long recovery from a series of neck surgeries. But it’s safe to say, now, that the Broncos got all of Peyton Manning. They didn’t get any cheap, try-his-best-in-the-twilight version of a faded star. They got the guy who would make Demaryius Thomas better and who would bond with Welker over 11:30 p.m. text messages during a mini-camp that Manning had invented at Duke last March and who would stay after practice to make sure rookie running back Montee Ball knew the keys to blitz pickup. They got the full Manning.

That, in a sloppy but compelling opener to the NFL’s 2013 season, was driven home over and over as Manning dissected the Super Bowl champions.

This week, someone asked a big football fan, singer John Legend, whom he most admired in the NFL. “Oh, it’s Peyton,’’ Legend said. “No question. I love people who are so passionate about quality, so focused on doing great things every day. There’s something to admire about that.”

* * *

(Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
By the time Demaryius Thomas broke free for his second score, last season’s playoff loss to the Ravens was left in the dust. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Ten Lessons from Broncos 49, Ravens 27:

1. Some things never change: It’s the little things that win and lose games. The blown replay choice by the Ravens was a huge play in the game. Would it have changed the course of the game? Probably not, but it was the big play in handing Denver a lead it wouldn’t give up. Baltimore led 17-14 early in the third quarter. On a 3rd-and-9 at the Denver 21, Manning threw low to Welker. It was a bang-bang play, but the officials missed a clear trap by Welker; the nose of the ball hit the ground as he caught it. While everyone in the place waited for John Harbaugh to throw his challenge flag, Manning got the Broncos to the line and ran another play. Harbaugh, as most coaches do, relies on the coaches upstairs to tell him when to challenge a call; he blamed NBC for not showing the replay in time. [Fairness alert: I work for NBC, and I was in the NBC production office at the stadium Thursday night watching the game early in the third quarter.] Well, I would challenge the Ravens not seeing the replay in time. In the office watching the game on TV, I saw the replay in plenty of time for the Ravens to make the challenge. In fact, I wasn’t the only one calling out to the TV: “Come on, throw the flag! It’s obvious!” No flag came. Now, instead of punting the ball away, Denver had life. Three plays later, Manning threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell. If I were Harbaugh, I’d convene his coaches today and ask what happened upstairs. Were they not decisive enough? Did they truly not see the play in time? Whatever, that’s a little thing that really hurt Baltimore.

2. Denver’s not overrated. Second-biggest stat of the night for the Broncos: the 2.5 sacks for Shaun Phillips, seen as a declining player when Denver signed him in free-agency. Chris Harris moved from slot corner to the outside to replace the injured Champ Bailey and had a good night of coverage and a spectacular diving interception. And Manny Ramirez, playing center for the first time in his career (and snapping to the most exacting quarterback alive) didn’t have an obvious gaffe all night. Said Phillips of the questions surrounding him in the preseason: “I took it personal that everyone was like, ‘Oh what are we going to do about the pass rush?’ I’ve had like 70 sacks in my career. What am I, some bum?”

3. Tight end, and the intermediate passing game, is a wasteland for Baltimore in the wake of losing Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta. The position is an absolute disaster zone for Baltimore (as our Greg A. Bedard foresaw back in August), and it was there for America to see Thursday night. Ed Dickson has a history of the drops, and he had his hands on three balls he should have caught against Denver. Dallas Clark, about all that was left on the scrap heap of free agency once Pitta went down early in camp with a hip injury, cost the Ravens four points just before halftime. He dropped an easy touchdown pass with 10 seconds left in the half, and the Ravens had to kick a chippy field goal. This is going to kill Joe Flacco if the Ravens don’t fix it. And how can they, unless they abandon the mid-range passing game and just go bombs-away 10 times a game? Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell may have no choice.

4. Flacco’s fault? Stop. Just stop. It wasn’t his best night. An early throw across the field into double-coverage was luckily not picked, and he had three or four other brainlock throws. But he had so little help from his receivers that you have to chalk this up as a learning experience. He learned he’s going to rely on two good running backs and his speed downfield.

Wes Welker, the new guy in town, had two TDs among his nine receptions. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Wes Welker, the new guy in town, had two TDs among his nine receptions—though his dropped punt is cause for concern. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

5. Dumbest play of the night (and there was some good competition for this): Denver’s Danny Trevathan stupidly dropped the ball, I guess, in some form of celebration before he reached the end zone. I was standing with Rod Smith, the former Broncos receiver, on the sideline late in the game when Trevathan intercepted Flacco and returned it for a touchdown—or so it seemed. He actually dropped the ball at about the one-yard line, and it rattled around the end zone and went out of the end zone as players scrambled for it, resulting in a touchback. Smith, from the moment it happened, was not only all over Trevathan for his idiotic irresponsibility (my words, not his) but quickly pointed out that rising star middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard came out of the play gimpy with what appeared to be a knee injury of some sort. Imagine if Woodyard was lost for any period of time not because of a play that happened in the open field—but because some immature player didn’t know how to carry a ball untouched into the end zone. Mind-numbing.

6. Wes Welker shouldn’t be known as one of the league’s surest-handed players anymore. Hey, a great debut for Welker, all in all … nine catches, 67 yards, two touchdowns. But he dropped a punt at his four-yard line (why he’s fielding it there, who knows), leading to a simple Ravens touchdown in the first half. No cause for alarm, but as important as he is to Manning and to this offense, John Fox shouldn’t have him returning punts. Add this muff to the fact that Welker, via Pro Football Focus, led all NFL wideouts with 15 drops last year, and you start to wonder if that miss from Tom Brady in the most recent Patriot Super Bowl was really any sort of fluke.

7. As if Manning needed it, he found another weapon: tight end Julius Thomas. The former Portland State basketball forward, 6-5 and 250, is an offensive force who vaulted over Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen on the tight end depth chart. His blocking is deficient, but he made a great catch, spin and run that changed the momentum of the game in the first half. Said Manning: “He definitely will make teams have a conversation, and that is what you want. You want guys that make teams have a discussion and say, ‘How are we going to handle this guy?’ ‘’

As if Manning needed another weapon, tight end Julius Thomas (80) emerged as a potential big-time contributor. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
As if Manning needed another weapon, tight end Julius Thomas (80) emerged as a potential big-time contributor. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

8. The game is changing I: Last year, the league set a record with an average of 128.4 plays per game. Last night, the two teams—both of which like the no-huddle—combined for 155 plays. With 104 passes.

9. The game is changing II. Fourteen kickoffs in this game. Zero returns.

10. It’s only one game. The Ravens shouldn’t throw hands in the air. They’re a smart team, and Harbaugh’s one of the smartest coaches in football—and one who knows which buttons to press too. Remember these results from Week 1 last year: The Jets scored 48 points. Indianapolis lost by 20. Russell Wilson was poor in a 20-16 loss at Arizona. It’s a long year.

* * *

Rod Smith watched Manning drive the Broncos to their sixth touchdown early in the fourth quarter. “What I see,’’ he said, “is he’s more confident in his arm. When you’re confident in your arm, you’re more sure of yourself and the throws you can make. And we’ve needed a quarterback who could lead the team. We’ve had no leadership there over the past five years. The beauty of a quarterback who everyone looks up to is he not only leads your offense, he leads your entire team. That’s Peyton right now.”

Smith’s on to something. I remember the weak throw Manning made in overtime of the playoff loss to the Ravens—rolling right, across his body, for Brandon Stokley, a soft pillow of a throw intercepted by Corey Graham. The long 2012 season took its toll (including that game, which ended in minus-six wind chill), and Manning was spent. I still don’t think his arm’s what it was—Tony Dungy agrees—but you saw it last night: The arm’s plenty good to dominate any team in football.

Ready for the Weekend?

Check out Peter King’s podcast—with Eli Manning, Greg Bedard and Andy Benoit this week


Read Richard Deitsch’s comprehensive guide to the 2013 broadcast schedule


Bone up with The MMQB’s 2013 Picks, Predictions and Storylines


And here’s our Week 1 fantasy football guide


“Peyton never doubted he’d be back to playing at a high level,” Dungy said after the game. “I remember asking him, ‘Are you sure you want to keep playing?’ He said, ‘They have assured me I’m going to be fine.’ I thought the second year with all these guys, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas and now with Welker, he’d be better. He understands where the weaknesses of the defense are. I still don’t think he’s throwing the ball like he did five years ago, but the accuracy is there, and the intelligence, and he’s just got a lot of weaponry.

“And with Peyton, you know him. He’s never going to be satisfied with good. He’ll never be satisfied with anything less than perfection, and that is what he is driven by. If you’re not ready for that as a teammate, if you’re not ready for that as a coach, you’re going to be stunned. Like Brandon Stokley said to Demaryius Thomas last year, ‘Either you’re going to get better, or you’re not going to get the ball.‘ ”

Manning came within a superhuman effort by Adrian Peterson of winning the MVP last year. As it was, Peterson, who rushed for 2,097 yards a year after major knee reconstruction, edged him 30-20; that’s how good Manning’s season was. This year he’s off to the best Week 1 start by a quarterback in history, and an unprecedented fifth MVP (he shared the award with Steve McNair in 2003) is certainly possible. But that’s not what Manning wants. He knows that greatness at his position is judged by Super Bowls won, not MVP awards. And he’s got one Super Bowl ring. In his world, and in the world that judges all-time greatness, he can’t retire with one and be the best ever.

But that’s for another month—February, not September. For now, enjoy one of the best players any of us has seen in any sport. Enjoy the quirks, and the demands, and his drive to be perfect. There’s something great, as John Legend says, about watching someone strive to be perfect the way Manning does.

Joe Flacco got a lesson in bounceback from the master. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Joe Flacco got a lesson in bounceback from the master. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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74 comments
FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

Denver the class of the afc  which seems weak early in the yr

mhoffmann
mhoffmann

Something a lot of people don't know, Peyton could of thrown at at least 7 TD passes twice before. His first time he played in the Louisiana Superdome he had 6 TD passes and never played in the 4th quarter. Then in 2004 in Detroit on Thanksgiving he threw 6 TD passes again and sat before the 4th quarter started.

Jimpo
Jimpo

Um... couple points...

Thomas didn't "vault over" Tamme and Dreesen in the depth chart; they were both injured...

Add 11. Flacco is not elite-- not now, not ever. There was only one elite QB on the field last night, and it was obvious the different in talent between the two.. How many boneheaded throws did Flacco throw (even announcers noted it)? He was lucky there was only 1 pick (and what else can we expect-- he's a sure bet for at least one pick in a regular season game!)

JPG
JPG

Congrats to the Broncos for an overwhelming win.

But let's put this in proper prospective.  Denver was hell bent on redemption after blowing last year's playoff game.  As was Mr. Manning.

An especially in front of a home crowd.

Baltimore, on the other hand, just showed what a exodus of good and great players does to a team.
Enjoy the win Denver but keep in it perspective.

JoJo8754
JoJo8754

People should be smarter than this by now.

"In his world, and in the world that judges all-time greatness, he can’t retire with one and be the best ever."

Steelers7160
Steelers7160

To me,go ahead and "crown" the broncos already. Being a steelers fan living in denver,the bronco fans think they already won the Super Bowl. Lets put a target on manning!! If jones and oher didn't get hurt this could've turned out differently. Sad to say but I was rooting for the ravens on this one.

FredFlintsone
FredFlintsone

Ravens were never that good lot of last second wins last yr vs lesser teams. they just managed to put together 2 wins at right time Denver has now blown out Baltimore 2 out of last 3 games other night being worst defeat by a reigning super bowl champ  ever. Flaco is no Brady , Rogers or Manning thats for sure  and  Ravens have no defense. 

RescuedfromESPN
RescuedfromESPN

And here come all the bandwagoners crowning the Broncos SB champs after week one, congratulations you beat a vulnerable Ravens team in your stadium. If they can go on the road and beat the Giants (and if there is one team that knows how to shut down a Star QB its the Giants.) then ill believe

tbennett76
tbennett76

Ya the game turned on the Welker play.  Not the video game passing Peyton put up, the relentless pressure from the front seven of the Broncos, the fact the Ravens receivers ate buttered popcorn before the game or the utter lack of answer for Thomas.  Yep, Welker's play accounted for 23 points.  Take your butt whoopin like a grown up and root for better next time.  Sometimes you just get it handed to you gift wrapped.  Peyton and the Broncos put on bow on it too.

Scramble
Scramble

The game turned on the refs blown call of the Welker drop that they called a catch. Ravens get the ball back with the lead who knows what could happen. Just remember the night the NFL turned the lights out in New Orleans.

kimsung75
kimsung75

I think the Ravens were really missing Reed and Lewis. Yeah yeah those guys were old, but the Ravens could have used their leadership and football IQ. Manning was having his way with the Ravens' young players. Reed and Lewis may have been slow, but at least they would have had a chance against Peyton's mind-games.

DSM
DSM

Yes, Welker had a lot of drops last year, but the missed completion in the Super Bowl was an overthrown pass--as big a Brady fan as Bill Simmons said so and added he had a perfect view of it.

CoreyHardin
CoreyHardin

Is anything ever Flacco's fault?  Must be nice to get all the credit (and money) yet none of the blame.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

also look at the pass defenses that the broncos have the next 3 weeks, giants, raiders, eagles, it's possible that peyton could have 16 by week 4, and oh yeah later on he also has jacksonville and tennessee, as the afc west plays the afc south in the intraconfernce games.  Also Steelers fans probably looked away on that 7th touchdown as I'm suprised pete also didn't bring this up, that was a 3rd back-breaking or milestone reaching touchdown play, 2011 wildcard round first play of ot, tebow to thomas 80 yards, last year season opener against the steelers Mannings first touchdown and milestone 400th of his career 71 yard alley screen and then last night 7th touchdowm 78 yard screen pass

BookieBreaker
BookieBreaker

lol what did we learn? lol as if i expected a different outcome....ravens - lewis - reed- boldin....= duh ravens lost no brainer bud

Danthefan1022
Danthefan1022

Where do all the AFCN fans that used to post in the blogs on ESPN go now?

Mark20
Mark20

The Flacco contract's effect on the Ravens was in full evidence last night. Glad he's got his 20 million. That's a lot of trips to McDonald's for the Flacster.

wwroger1
wwroger1

It's the first game, everyone, let's not crown the broncos the world champs yet.  What did Peter say about Manning being "tired" by the end of last season.  Hmm, do you think that could happen again?  Honestly, Denver should have been leading the Ravens by 14 at halftime.  Room to grow for both teams.

And yes the 0 returns for 14 kickoffs is a dumb dunce comment.  Anyone watching televised NFL for a year knows the thin air affects kickoffs.

Chip
Chip

Missing Pitta last night really hurt, and losing Jones to injury hurts too. Dickson and Clark are going to have to get more reliable catching the ball, and in a hurry. I'm not panicking yet, although Flacco can only do so much. He can't catch the ball that he throws.

 I'm not too worried about the Ravens' defense yet either. They'll get better as they play together more, and it's always tough against Peyton Manning. That guy is just really, really good. 

 It's just one game. Long way to go.

Chip
Chip

"Fourteen kickoffs in this game. Zero returns."

Well, the game was played in the thin air in the mile high city. I'd wait to see games at lower elevations before making any comment about the lack of returns.

JustSomeGuyWho
JustSomeGuyWho

@JPG - Ok, let's put this in perspective ... no QB has thrown for 7 touchdowns in 44 NFL seasons.  Nobody.  This includes the games most prolific scoring offenses against historically bad passing defenses.  You can say all you want about how Baltimore lost players but they aren't even a bad defense relative to other teams THIS season let alone 44 NFL seasons.  

JoJo8754
JoJo8754

@Steelers7160I don't think Broncos fans think they won the Super Bowl. They're just elated to demolish the Ravens after the playoff heartbreak and dealing with Raven's fans nonsense this offseason.


But if you're right, then perhaps Broncos fans and football fans alike should recognize the following. It's week one.

"I ran a correlation of DVOA in every two-week span of the season to DVOA over an entire season. The weakest two-week span, of course, is Weeks 16-17, because of teams resting starters. But the next weakest span, BY FAR, was Weeks 1-2. Performance in Weeks 1-2 correlates to performance the rest of the year much less than performance in, say, Weeks 5-6, or Weeks 10-11, or Weeks 13-14"

ChrisSanchez
ChrisSanchez

@RescuedfromESPN here comes the moronic haters who don't actually watch the games.  Both teams had new playing and adapting to new roles.  Denver clearly handled it better than the Ravens.  Funny that you would believe that the Giants are a better team than the Ravens, clearly they were never a better team than the Ravens (which means you probably are a Giants fan).  When you watch the games from week 1.  Only a handful of teams standout for their wins : Denver, SF, and Detroit.  The rest of the AFC looks weaker than last year (hopefully Houston will prove differently).  

Hampton180
Hampton180

@tbennett76 Not like the Ravens didn't get some plays gift wrapped as well.  There was a pass interference on Denver's first drive on 3rd down that should have kept it alive.  And you might as well include the Welker and Trevathan fumbles.  With gimmes like those you can't say the Ravens didn't lose the game for themselves.

ChrisSanchez
ChrisSanchez

@Scramble who knows what happens?  Probably the same thing that did happen.  Baltimore still went 3 and out on their next 3 drives after that.  The drop was meaningful but the Ravens already decided how they wanted to come out in the second half and it was to establish the run and grind out the game.  Unfortunately for them they could not get the ground game going in the second half.

JohnOrtiz
JohnOrtiz

@DSM , Reggie Wayne ran a lazy route in 2009 on Peyton's pick six, right? LOL. The 3 turnovers in the Ravens game weren't his fault either. 

JohnOrtiz
JohnOrtiz

@DSM , It wasn't a perfect throw but the pass hit him square in both hands. LOL. Brady haters will see it how they want to. 

David G
David G

@TheQuintessential Does that matter?  So were Joe Kapps, Dan Marinos and a lot of other QBs at times.  Not all were "wobbly".  As long as they are caught by his team who cares?  Notice there were NO interceptions.

Baconpizza
Baconpizza

@BookieBreaker  

I still say they win their division.   When you think about it, that game last night should've been played in Baltimore if not for a scheduling conflict with the Orioles.  You think Peyton & co. put up 49 there?  I'd bet against it.

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@Mark20   Peyton Manning is collecting $20 million in pay in each of his first two yrs of his 5 yr $96 million contract with the Broncos...

Peyton collected $20 million last yr with them and will collect another $20 million from them this yr.  So it's possible to still be a good team overall with a $20 million QB...

Here are a few blurbs about his contract...

"Under the new terms of the contract, Manning will still earn the $40 million in guaranteed money over the next two seasons, but the payouts of those amounts has been tweaked."

"Instead of earning $20 million in fully guaranteed base salaries in 2013 and 2014, Manning received a $10 million salary advance and his base salaries in 2013 and 2014 have been lowered to $15 million in each season. The $10 million salary advance is treated like a signing bonus and will be prorated over the next four seasons, reducing Manning's cap number from $20 million to $17.5 million in both 2013 and 2014."

jamsub
jamsub

@Mark20 That chunk of cash makes it hard to scramble nowadays. 

Mark20
Mark20

@Chip "Not worried about the defense" after giving up 7 passing TDs? I'd be plenty worried.

Danthefan1022
Danthefan1022

Well you should be worried about the defense.

jamsub
jamsub

@Chip I partially agree with you. Not sure if the heavier air would have changed it enough since most of the kickoffs I saw landed well past the end zone. But this was two kickers and not representative of the other 30.

ChrisSanchez
ChrisSanchez

@GravyMartin @FredFlintsone The best team in the NFL rarely wins the Super Bowl.  Any team can get hot and go on a run.  Baltimore was far from the best team in the NFL during the regular season.  The two most recent Giants SB wins, the Giants were not the best team in the NFL.  The playoffs are about getting hot, not about who is the best team.

Hampton180
Hampton180

@JohnOrtiz @DSM No excuse for the turnovers butt there was also no excuse for the amount of big plays Denver's D gave up in that game.  If the D played like it normally should have i would not have been close.

DSM
DSM

@JohnOrtiz @DSM I think "wasn't a perfect throw" is an understatement and "square in both hands" is an overstatement, but Brady is still an all-time great QB and Welker a great slot receiver.  On that 1 play, however, neither of them showed their usual skill.

It is just the nature of football--the 2 completions which were crucial for the Giants in the 2 SB wins were both much less likely to succeed than the Pats' incompletion, but wound up working.

And the many "journalists" who focus on that incompletion forget that the Pats' pass defense simply did not play very well that entire year and in much of the SB.

CobyPreimesberger
CobyPreimesberger

@Baconpizza @BookieBreaker uh just look at last year caldwells first game they put up 35 and in that game there was a huge game changing play ravens about to punch it in for a touchdown and the last guy to intercept a flacco pass last season who also got the first pick of this year chris harris takes it to the house and blows that game open.  I think the real turning point in this game, was not only the the welker trap that wasn't challenged, but also right before half dallas clark dropping an easy 6 that could've also changed the momentum of the game as the broncos could've been down 7 instead of 3

geewhiz
geewhiz

@Mark20 @Chip To be fair, since the Ravens offense was so inept, the defense looked worn out in the second half.

SteveRowFla
SteveRowFla

@CobyPreimesberger @Baconpizza @BookieBreaker Keep telling yourselves that, Raven fans.  Much like New England, you can't lose so many key contributors (Lewis and Reed aren't even in that category) and still dominate.  Cincy will take the division and be the only team from the AFC North to make the playoffs.

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