While the interest in Peyton Manning nationally is running high (as witnessed by how often Denver's played in prime time this season), the excitement level locally has been muted in comparison with last year's Tim Tebow mania. But that may be about to change. Hours after the Chosen One missed a block on punt coverage (!) that contributed to another Jets defeat, Manning was spot-on in the Broncos' 34-14 dismantling of the New Orleans Saints.
The Saints came into last night's game with a 2-4 record, but that didn't mean this game was a gimme. Thanks to Bountygate (more than forty years after Watergate, why are we still putting a "gate" at the end of every scandal's name?), Drew Brees and company got off to an understandably slow start. But in the past two games, Breesus seemed to be back on track and ready to shred vulnerable defenses as he's done in recent seasons, when his statistics have been gaudier than those racked up by plenty of QBs firmly ensconced in the Hall of Fame.
And yet the Broncos D, which has been mighty erratic thus far, managed to make Brees look pedestrian despite a continuing inability to generate a consistently fierce pass rush. (Brees was only sacked twice, with neither Von Miller nor Elvis Dumervil accomplishing this feat; Derek Wolfe and Wesley Woodyard earned the honors.) Granted, the Saints receivers provided a big assist in this respect, dropping plenty of catchable balls over the course of the contest. But the secondary, which began demonstrating heretofore elusive skills two weeks ago against San Diego, stepped up big again. Tracy Porter remained sidelined with an illness, but young talents like Tony Carter and Chris Harris (supplemented by the ageless Champ Bailey) are playing so well that the veteran may have a hard time getting back on the field even after doctors give him the all-clear.
Manning, meanwhile, carved up the Saints defense as if Thanksgiving had come several weeks early even after whacking his hand on top of Saints pass rusher. NBC color commentator Chris Collinsworth tried to hype the damage done to Manning's thumb as a potential disaster in the making, which it didn't appear to be; here's hoping there's no worsening over the course of the week. But lost amid all of the digit discussion was the fact that Peyton took the kind of monster shot fans cringed about in week one, when we still didn't know whether he could take such punishment due to his numerous neck surgeries. Now, we know better -- and it's a beautiful feeling.
So, too, was watching Eric Decker continue to develop into the Reggie Wayne of the Broncos (he caught two touchdowns) and Demaryius Thomas looking less lost and more certain (his touchdown reception was accompanied by a number of long strikes and zero notable gaffes). As a bonus, Ronnie Hillman had the equivalent of a coming-out party, showing the bursts of speed that convinced the Broncos to bring him aboard. Sorry, Knowshon Moreno: You won't be playing meaningful minutes anytime soon.
As for Willis McGahee, he's both a wonder and a conundrum. Once again, he showed an ability to gash defenses that belies his advanced (by NFL standards) age -- and once again, he coughed up the ball, leading directly to a Saints touchdown. Fortunately, the turnover didn't matter much in the overall scheme of things, but he's too experienced a runner to have such a case of fumble-itis.
Still, that's about the only complaint one can muster about last night -- other than John Elway's insistence upon (ewwww) swishing chewing tobacco every time he was on camera. Even the notoriously critical Manning couldn't find much to gripe about during his post-game remarks. Right now, Broncos fans are seeing the outfit they envisioned when Elway made the bold move to obtain Manning and show Tebow the door. Anybody think he made the wrong choice now?
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Below, see a CBS4 video featuring Manning talking after the game.
More from our Sports archive: "Videos: Peyton Manning's fourth disaster's the charm, thanks to Philip Rivers's implosion."