As if last week's NFL opener win over the Super Bowl champ Ravens wasn't hype-filled enough, the latest Broncos game pitted ol' Peyton against little bro Eli in the third, and possibly last, edition of what's universally known as the Manning Bowl.
Peyton had been 2-0 in previous matchups against his younger sibling, and he kept his mark perfect in a 41-23 victory. But it's clear the record that means more to Peyton pertains to Super Bowls, which Eli currently leads 2-1. Can the P-man even up the score?
The contest initially seemed like it would be a continuation of the Ravens rout, during which Peyton threw seven touchdowns and thoroughly humiliated the allegedly vaunted Baltimore defense. But after Number 18 marched the squad down the field with alacrity and precision, rookie running back Montee Ball coughed up the pigskin as he was mere feet from the end zone, earning himself nothing more, and nothing less, than one of Manning's trademark glares.
Then, to add just that much more misery to Broncos Nation, Eli responded by throwing a 51-yard pass to Victor Cruz, who proved to be a difficult cover for the normally reliable Chris Harris. But the Giants fizzled out before reaching pay dirt and settled for a field goal -- a first-half theme that kept Denver in the game despite inconsistent play from the wide-receiver corps.
Yes, Eric Decker wound up catching a slew of passes yesterday, unlike during the Ravens game -- but he also dropped several, and cohorts like Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas offered up some hands-of-stone moments of their own. Had this trio snared every Peyton hurl that hit them in the hands, the competition would have been over a lot sooner than it was. Instead, the Broncos went into halftime holding just a 10-9 lead, with the sole TD coming courtesy of Knowshon Moreno, a runner who I and pretty much everyone else had written off as a Josh McDaniels mistake last year.
Turns out we were premature. In the third quarter, the Broncos upset the Giants' expectations by running the ball more than anticipated, with Moreno getting another lengthy touchdown as a result -- and just like in the old days, before the rules were rewritten to benefit aerial attacks, the ground game opened up the passing attack. Better yet, Decker and company, assisted ably by budding superstar (and dubious driver) Julius Thomas, began to catch pretty much everything Manning sent their way, resulting in another points explosion.
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Defensively, the Broncos looked far from invincible. The D-line failed to generate any credible pass rush, although Eli failed to take advantage due to ineffective play calling, a number of drops by his chosen targets and some crazy breaks -- like an interception by Harris that caromed off safety Tony Carter's heel and set the table for another score.
For pretty much anyone other than those Broncos fans (like yours truly) who've been there since the beginning and have been trained to expect apparent prosperity to breed disaster, the outcome was never really in doubt even during the first half, when the score was tight and Denver looked at least quasi-vulnerable. Suddenly, those Super Bowl aspirations don't look unrealistic despite the loss of Elvis Dumervil, the continuing suspension of Von Miller and the failure of running backs Ball and Ronnie Hillman to reach their potential thus far. And if it happens, the Manning Bowl will be a mere sidelight rather than the main attraction.
More from our Sports archive: "Video: Peyton Manning's seven touchdowns make up for a multitude of dumb-ass sins."