Questions surrounding the Denver Broncos (3-1) slow start on offense this season were answered in loudly on Sunday afternoon at Sports Authority Field at Mile High as a franchise record 568 yards of total offense was amassed in a 41-20 rout of the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals (3-1).
Peyton Manning joined Brett Favre to become only the second quarterback in NFL history to reach the 500 touchdown mark when he connected with a 7-yard pass to Julius Thomas on the first drive of the game to take a 7-0 lead with 4:43 remaining in the first quarter. Manning needed 49 fewer games to reach the historic milestone despite missing an entire season in 2011.
Coincidentally, Thomas also caught Manning's 51st pass in 2013 to break Tom Brady's single season touchdown record. Manning would throw three more touchdowns before the day was though and set a career mark with 479 passing yard.
"I guess you can’t help but just take a couple moments and you go down memory lane a little bit," Manning said. "I don’t think there’s any players still playing when I threw my first touchdown, but it’s interesting, two coaches on Arizona’s sideline were both there my first game when I threw my first touchdown: Tom Moore and Bruce Arians. And I give both of those men a lot of credit for helping me improve as a quarterback. Football is the ultimate team game. One man has to accept the honor, but I really accept it on behalf of a lot of coaches and teammates."
When you think of where Manning was just three short years ago, standing on an Indianapolis Colts sideline with a fresh surgical scar on the back of his neck from four surgeries and real doubt as to whether he would ever step back on to a football field again, you stand back in awe of the magnitude of this achievement.
It was also a record setting day for two of the Broncos receivers. Demaryius Thomas, who had been struggling through the first three games of the season with four dropped passes and just one touchdown exploded for a franchise record 226 yards (Shannon Sharpe, 214 yards) and two touchdowns. Thomas was a handful for Antonio Cromartie, repeatedly beating the nine year corner and averaging 28.3 yards per reception.
"To come back with a performance like this and help my team is big," Thomas said. "I challenged myself."
Wes Welker broke former Broncos wide receiver Rod Smith's NFL record for most catches by an undrafted costless agent with his 850th career reception. The record-breaking catch came on the last play of the half when Welker caught a five yard pass from Manning.
For the third time in the last four games the Broncos offense came out of the gate fast, jumping to a 14-6 lead in the second quarter.
Besides the touchdown to Julius Thomas that put Manning into the 500 TD club, Manning also connected with Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown with a short pass on second-and-11, a 31-yard completion that concluded a 80-yard drive with 7:30 remaining in the half.
"We knew it was going to be a passing game," Manning said. "We knew there were going to be some incompletions, we knew there were going to be some kind of ugly series. But we thought if we just stayed aggressive, we would get our big plays, and that’s what we did."
The Broncos defense swarmed Cardinals starting quarterback Drew Stanton, pressuring him and forcing off-balance throws for incompletions. When Stanton did have time to throw, Cardinal receivers were dropping the passes, eight for the game. The Broncos held the Cardinals to just two field goals into the second quarter.
The Broncos regained the ball with 4:50 remaining in the half when Manning's pass to Welker on second-and-20 was intercepted by defensive end Calais Campbell and returned to the Denver 5-yard line. Manning ended up making the touchdown-saving tackle by tripping up Campbell. The Cardinals cashed in the turnover for six points on the ensuing play when Andre Ellington ran it straight ahead into the endzone to make it 14-13 Broncos with 4:32 remaining until halftime.
After both teams exchanged punts, the Broncos took over deep in their own territory with 1:48 remaining. On first-and-10 from their 14-yard line, Manning completed a pass to D. Thomas that he would take 86 yards for the score and send the Broncos into halftime with a 21-13 lead.
The Cardinals first possession of the second half was a nightmare for a team that has been plagued by injuries this season. Stanton threw an incomplete pass on third-and-8 just before Von Miller delivered a jarring hit that sent the Cardinals quarterback to the ground, banging his head hard on the field. Stanton ended up being taken to the locker room with concussion symptoms.
The Broncos next possession they would drive 45-yards on seven plays, capping the possession with a 44-yard field goal from Brandon McManus who took over as the permanent kicker following the release of long-time Bronco Matt Prater.
With Stanton out for the rest of the game, the Cardinals turned to their third string quarterback. Rookie quarterback Logan Thomas entered the game in his first NFL appearance. Following a 1-yard gain on a run by Ellington, DeMarcus Ware greeted Thomas with a sack for a 3-yard loss back to the their own 8-yard line. It didn't get any better for Thomas on the next play as Miller and defensive end Malik Jackson sandwiched him at the 3-yard line. Miller, looking like the linebacker who terrorized quarterbacks before his suspension and ACL tear limited him for much of 2013, finished with 1.5 sacks on the day.
With 3:16 left in the third quarter, the Cardinals stunned the Broncos when Ellington caught a pass that zipped through Irving's hands. Ellington ran 81-yards for a touchdown. The cheering crowd at Sports Authority Field suddenly fell silent as the Cardinals pulled to within four points at 24-20. It looked as if this game was following the same script as the first two home games.
Unlike those first two games, the Broncos offense would step on the gas and not let up.
"That’s something we talked about in the first three games: We haven’t finished late in the game," Manning said. "We were fortunate to win two of them but didn’t win the last one, so we probably definitely won the fourth quarter today and finished the game we wanted to."
Manning would throw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas and rookie running back Juwan Thompson would score his first NFL touchdown on a 8-yard run up the middle to finish off the 41-20 victory.
Run. Run. Run.
The Cardinals' 2nd ranked run defense held the Broncos running game in check through the first half. Montee Ball was held to just 7-yards rushing on six carries before he injured his groin on a pass blocking play in the third quarter.
Ronnie Hillman and Thompson entered the game in place of the injured Ball and began seeing some success against a tiring defense. Hillman finished the day as the leading rusher in the game with 15 carries for 64 yards (4.3 yds average), all in the second half. Thompson picked up 15 yards on three carries along with the touchdown.
Welcome Back Danny Trevathan
Linebacker Danny Trevathan played in his first game of 2014 after returning from a broken knee in the preseason. Trevathan picked up where he left off last year by leading the team in tackles with seven (one assist). Trevathan's return signalled the first time since 2012 that the starting defense the coaches had drawn up on paper actually made it on the field. Injuries and suspensions beginning with Von Miller's six game suspension to begin the 2013 season forced defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio to put together a patchwork defense throughout the entire campaign.
Montee Ball strained his groin in the third quarter while pass protecting on a 20-yard completion to Emmanuel Sanders. Ball will have an MRI on Monday and is expected to miss several weeks with the injury. Ronnie Hillman is expected to get the start at running back.
Broncos- 10/12/14 at New York Jets. The Broncos head back to MetLife Stadium, site of their nightmarish performance last February in Super Bowl XLVII, to take on the 1-4 Jets. The Jets suffered a 31-0 loss to the San Diego Chargers in San Diego. Despite being benched in the game, head coach Rex Ryan said in the post-game press conference that quarterback Geno Smith will start against the Broncos.
Peyton Manning has now thrown touchdowns in 43 consecutive games. The streak is the 4th longest in NFL history.
Broncos 41-20 victory over the Cardinals was the first time in NFL history that a team won by 21 or more points with a -2 or worse turnover ratio.
The 568 yards of offense allowed by the Cardinals defense is the most since 1973.
Julius Thomas may be losing a bite out of his game check come Monday morning following an illegal chop-block on defensive end Calais Campbell that strained his MCL. The Cardinals were furious over the incident with head coach Bruce Arians calling it "the dirtiest play I've ever seen."
|Red Zone (Made-Att)||1-2||3-3|
|Time of Possession||24:43||35:17|
|Calais Campbell/Jerraud Powers||1/1||23/1||0/0|
|W L T||PCT||Home||Road||Div||AFC||Streak|
|San Diego||4 1 0||.800||3-0||1-1||0-0||3-0||Won 4|
|Denver||3 1 0||.750||3-0||0-1||1-0||2-0||Won 1|
|Kansas City||2 3 0||.400||1-1||1-2||0-1||2-2||Lost 1|
|Oakland||0 4 0||.000||0-2||0-2||0-0||0-4||Lost 4|