All week, the Green Bay Packers’ defenders said all the right things about Peyton Manning.
As it turns out, those weren’t just empty platitudes.
Manning, the five-time MVP who entered the night ranked 31st in passer rating, completed 21-of-29 passes for 340 to lead the Denver Broncos to a way-too-easy 29-10 victory in a battle of undefeated teams.
While Manning, receiver Demaryius Thomas (eight catches, 168 yards) and running backs C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman (combined 160 rushing yards) riddled a Green Bay defense that entered the night ranked No. 1 in points allowed per game, Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense couldn’t move the ball with any consistency against a Denver defense that showed which unit is far and away the best unit in football.
Rodgers had an awful night. Denver’s defensive backs smothered Green Bay’s receivers and Rodgers never looked comfortable in the pocket against a relentless pass rush. Rodgers finished 14-of-22 for just 77 yards. Scott Tolzien replaced him for the final 1:09.
"I haven’t had my ass kicked like that in a long time," coach Mike McCarthy said.
The Packers (6-1) fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter but pulled within 17-10 on Mason Crosby’s 56-yard field goal on the opening possession of the second half. The Broncos, however, made all the key plays in this hyped showdown. On third-and-8, Manning hit Thomas for a gain of 20. On third-and-2, three plays after Clay Matthews exited briefly with an ankle injury, Anderson ran for a 28-yard touchdown on a cutback behind Matthews’ replacement, Joe Thomas. That made it 24-10.
The Broncos (7-0) tacked on a chip-shot field goal, then made it 29-10 on a safety when DeMarcus Ware’s sack-strip was recovered in the end zone by the man he beat, tight end Richard Rodgers. At that point, the Broncos had a 449-137 advantage in total yards.
With the win, Manning tied Brett Favre's NFL record for wins with victory No. 186.
The Broncos led 17-7 at halftime. Manning had a monster first half, going 14-of-18 for 212 yards.
Manning dissected what had been the NFL’s top-ranked scoring defense during back-to-back touchdown drives of 83 and 85 yards. On the first of those scoring drives, he hit Thomas for a 31-yard catch-and-run that was particularly painful for the Packers. Thomas beat cornerback Casey Hayward, then made him miss while gaining 15 yards after the catch. Adding injury to insult, cornerback Sam Shields sustained a shoulder injury while missing a tackle.
That 7-0 lead stuck to the end of the first quarter. Denver, which hadn’t scored a first-quarter touchdown all season, still hasn’t allowed a first-quarter point; Green Bay’s NFL-record 22-game first-quarter scoring streak ended with a whimper.
On the next scoring drive, Manning hit Thomas for a gain of 47 to the 5 on a perfectly placed deep ball against Hayward. Denver was flagged for offensive pass interference on the next play, but it didn’t matter. On first-and-goal from the 15, Hillman got lost in the shuffle at the line of scrimmage, broke into the clear and beat Micah Hyde to the pylon for a touchdown.
Trailing 17-0, Green Bay finally got a drive going. On a third-and-6, Rodgers evaded a potential sack by Von Miller and hit Richard Rodgers at the sideline. On another third-and-6, Rodgers threw incomplete but safety David Bruton was flagged for roughing the passer on a helmet-to-helmet hit. Randall Cobb gained 10 on an end-around, Lacy ran for 15 and then ran over linebacker Brandon Marshall for a 2-yard touchdown.
Rodgers had a miserable half, going 8-of-12 for just 37 yards as Denver’s elite secondary was the latest to shut down Green Bay’s formerly high-flying passing attack.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.