It took about five and a half quarters, but Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos offense finally found a semblance of a groove, on the road. After failing to find much purchase in the first quarter of their Week 2 game at Arrowhead, the Broncos abandoned the under-center approach and dug themselves out of a 14-0 deficit.
It was impressive, if only because for the second straight week, Manning threw a pick-6, this time to rookie corner Marcus Peters. The defensive score gave the Chiefs all the momentum. But on the road, in the face of a loud, hostile crowd, Manning picked himself up by the bootstraps and led the Broncos on a 10-play, 80-yard drive that resulted in a 16-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders.
It was Manning's first of the season.
Meanwhile, the Broncos defense played like a high school varsity team in the first half, who couldn't control the raging hormones coursing through their veins. Multiple personal foul penalties gave the Chiefs too many chances. It was a sloppy, undisciplined performance early.
The first half resulted in a 14-14 tie. Early in the game, head coach Gary Kubiak passed on the no-brainer opportunity to take a 3-0 lead, instead choosing to go for it on fourth down. In a game that made it clear early that it would be a tight slugfest, it was a big mistake by the veteran coach.
The Broncos defense eventually turned the ship around and played very fast, aggressive football. They took the ball away from the Chiefs five times, two of which were in the redzone. They gave up two touchdown-scoring drives, but the offense didn't do them many favors, especially in the second half.
After moving to the no huddle offense for a time and finding some rhythm, the offense stalled for most of the second half. When Alex Smith led the Chiefs on a six-play, 61-yard touchdown drive, it gave the Chiefs a seven-point lead with only 2:27 left in the game. The ball was in Manning's court.
The Sheriff shrugged off his doubters and all the criticism that's been heaped on his shoulders, leading the Broncos on yet another 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive, again finding Sanders in the endzone.
With all the chips down, Manning did what he's done so many times in his 18-year career and snatched the victory from the jaws of defeat. Even still, the game was tied at 24 points each. Smith and the Chiefs offense would get about half a minute to drive down into field goal range.
But again, the final difference was made by a ballhawking defense. Brandon Marshall punched the ball out of Charles' hands on the first play of the drive (Charles' second lost fumble of the game). It was picked up by Bradley Roby and returned for a touchdown. With the extra point by Brandon McManus, the Broncos led 31-24 and never looked back.
This was a complete team win. They needed all three phases to emerge victorious. There are concerns in Denver, especially the offensive line's inability to open holes for the running backs or protect Manning. However, this was a gut check game for the new-look Broncos.
They dug deep and overcame adversity to pull out their 13th consecutive road win in-division, giving them the all-time NFL record. The schedule makers gave the Broncos a stiff task of playing two of the best defenses in the league to open the season.
Manning went 26-of-45 for 256 yards, 3 touchdowns and an interception. Again, the Broncos took the ball away from the Chiefs a whopping five times. Each unit picked up the slack when the other was in the lurch. And in the clutch, both the offense and the defense delivered.
John Elway wanted "kicking and screaming" from his team. Perhaps tonight proves that he got it. The Broncos now get a few extra days to recover from their grueling start to the 2015 schedule.
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