It was a probably the worst quarter in Peyton Manning’s career. The Denver Broncos, coming into their week 2 Monday Night Football matchup with the Falcons, were 1-0 to start the season after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers at home. In their first road game, the Broncos got off to a very inauspicious start at the Georgia Dome, to say the least.
Peyton Manning threw three interceptions in the team’s first three drives. After being forced to punt on their fourth possession,
Knowshon Moreno fumbled on their fifth, giving the Broncos a total of 19 plays with 3 INTs, 1 fumble, and 1 punt.
The Broncos opening drive nearly started with an interception, as Demaryius Thomas juggled a pass that barely fell to the ground without being picked. Willis McGahee was knocked back for a 2-yard loss on second down. On third-and-12, Manning nearly threw a “pick-6” to William Moore. Intended for Jacob Tamme, Manning’s pass was high, and Moore returned it to the Falcons 1 yard line. Orlando Franklin (with some help from Joel Dressen) made a tackle that saved a touchdown. The Falcons would convert on a Michael Turner TD rush.
The second drive for the Broncos started with a 14-yard pass to Brandon Stokley (after a defensive offside penalty). The next snap was a broken play, where there was obvious miscommunication. Manning had to curl into a ball after attempting to run as Sean Witherspoon was credited with the tackle for loss. The next play was another high floater intended for Tamme that was intercepted by the other safety, Thomas DeCoud. Two drives resulted in two turnovers.
The Broncos third offensive possession started with a McGahee run with no gain. The second down play was a 9-yard completion to Tamme. After a false start penalty, Brandon Stokley caught a 6-yard pass. McGahee got into the plus-side in rushing yardage with a nice 15-yard run to the outside. Then, the Broncos turned to a play that scored them a 71-yard touchdown pass the week before–a “bubble screen” to Demaryius Thomas. This time, Thomas could only muster 14 yards. On the next play, Manning, looking for Stokley, was picked for the third time of the quarter. Cornerback Robert McClain intercepted another high pass.
The best drive of the quarter for the Broncos was their four-play fourth possession. After McGahee ran another nice play for 31 yards, the Broncos could not get another first down, and punted. On their next drive, Knowshon Moreno fumbled the ball away. Luckily, at the end of the quarter, the Broncos only trailed 10-0. After running 19 plays, Denver had 3 interceptions, 1 fumble, and 1 punt.
Two more Matt Bryant field goals later, the Broncos were down 20-0. With 4:39 left in the half, the Broncos got the ball back after a touchback. They would drive 80 yards in 4 minutes, 33 seconds, ending in a Demaryius Thomas 17-yard touchdown pass. Luckily, it was after the two-minute warning, and was reviewed by the booth, because coach John Fox had used up both of his challenges prior to this play. The pass, which was called incomplete by the replacement officials, was actually a very good catch by Thomas on another high, wobbly Manning throw. The did get both feet down in the endzone. The Falcons would lead 20-7 at the half.
Manning was 13-of-19 for 120 yards, 1 TD and 3 INTs in the first half.
The Broncos defense would go on to force the vaunted Falcons offense to punt on their first possession of the second half. The Falcons would score on a 6-play, 62-yard drive capped off by a Roddy White 4-yard TD pass from Matt Ryan to go up 27-7. That would be their last scoring drive of the night.
Willis McGahee rushed for two 2-yard touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The first capped a very nice Broncos drive of 12 plays, 88 yards in 5:02. The second, which put the Broncos down by 6, came with 3:25 left in the fourth quarter. The Broncos could not force the Falcons to punt, or turn the ball over, as Atlanta was to ultimately kneel-down to end the game.
Manning was 11-for-18 in the second half, ending his night 24-for-37 for 241 yards, 1 TD and 3 INTs. After the horrible first quarter, the Broncos offense was adequate, and then good near the end of the game. Not many teams can come back from four turnovers in the opening quarter, but the Broncos gave it their best shot. A disappointing loss, but it could have been much worse.
The Broncos host the 2-0 Houston Texans on Sunday.