Last week, after the Broncos blew out the New Orleans Saints, we suggested that Peyton Manning had finally exorcised Tim Tebow from the souls of Denver fans. But then, the very next week against the Bengals, Manning was called upon to execute a Tebow specialty -- the fourth-quarter comeback. He managed to do so successfully en route to a 31-23 victory. But that's where the comparisons end.
Despite the Broncos being on the road against a desperate team that's better than its record indicates (a playoff squad last year, Cincinnati had lost three straight coming into yesterday), the game was still Denver's to lose -- and for a while, it looked as if the squad would find a way to do so.
After getting an opening-possession stop against Andy Dalton and company, Manning and his charges countered with an ideal initial drive -- until an inexplicable third and six run by Willis McGahee came up five yards shy necessitated a Matt Prater field goal.
The next Denver possession netted even less thanks to dropped passes and a penalty, after which the Bengals managed a tying three-pointer -- and while Manning and company were able to cash in the next time around via a thirteen-yard strike to the increasingly indispensable Eric Decker, those were the only additional points the Broncos racked up in the first half. Had Bengals kicker Mike Nugent not pushed a late field goal try to the right, the Denver 10-3 lead would have been even more slender.
The second half started out much better, with Trindon Holliday's stupid decision to return a kick five yards deep in the end zone suddenly transformed into brilliance when he streaked through the Bengals' stunned special teams players for a 105 yard score. But Denver apparently couldn't handle that much good fortune. The defense, which had previously been fairly stout (especially sack-master Von Miller), allowed Cincy to march down the field after the ensuing kickoff, with A.J. Green beating defensive stopper Champ Bailey badly for six. Then, Manning was picked at the goal line by Terence Newman -- a gaffe the Bengals converted into three points. And Newman got another interception deep in Denver territory (Holliday and Lance Ball misplayed Nugent's next boot), leading to another touchdown and a 20-17 deficit.
Had Tebow still been the Broncos quarterback at that point, he likely would have offered up a couple more three-and-outs to add drama to the proceedings. But not Manning.
Continue to read more about the Broncos' victory over the Bengals, and to see game and post-game video. The next time he got the ball, Manning put on his Peyton Face and got to work on redemption, quickly engineering a scoring drive set up by a thirty yarder to Decker and paid off via a one-yard toss to Joel Dreessen. Then, after Bailey got some redemption of his own by grabbing a Dalton heave meant for Green, he dialed up McGahee, whose lack of success earlier had still managed to wear down the Bengals D, then hit Decker for another touchdown, putting Cincinnati into an eleven-point hole from which the team couldn't escape.
The results weren't nearly as suspenseful as the Tebow comebacks of last season. In fact, there wasn't much suspense at all. Although Manning had thrown two interceptions, there was never a moment when Denver fans doubted his ability to reverse these curses -- and he didn't need unwise prevent defenses and other mental errors on the part of his opponents to do it. He may not have performed as flawlessly as last week versus the Saints, but he's still playing at a very high level, ensuring that the Broncos came out of what seemed like a trap game with another W.
That, Timmy, is how it's done.
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Look below to see excerpts of Manning, Bailey and Brandon Stokley at the post-game press conference, followed by a clip of Holliday's amazing kickoff return.
More from our Sports archive: "Peyton Manning exorcises Tim Tebow once and for all in Saints blow-out."