As a lifelong Broncos fan, I am typically paranoid as hell about the team -- fearful that the brighter the spotlight, the more likely the squad is to screw up in it for all the world to see. And there were certainly some ugly moments during last night's kickoff to the NFL season against the Super Bowl champion (hate typing that) Baltimore Ravens; we'll get to those shortly.
But there aren't many things on a gridiron that seven touchdown passes can't overwhelm, as Peyton Manning proved last night.
The hype surrounding the game was undeniably irritating at times, and that certainly carried over to the NBC broadcast itself, which introduced itself via enormous banners that covered thousands of fans like flattened-out tents, fireworks displays, a special appearance by Ryan Seacrest (!), and the ham-handed use of Europe's corporate-metal schlock-classic "Final Countdown," echoed by more than two-dozen NFL greats -- the last of whom was, of course, recently retired Raven Ray Lewis.
Apparently, though, a higher power was no more amused by the Lewis cameo than by all those Joe Flacco banners around town, and on Mile High Stadium itself. Seconds after Lewis's face appeared on the Mile High Jumbotron, a lightning storm in the vicinity delayed the start of the contest for more than half an hour, throwing a major crimp into the network's carefully structured program.
This was pretty much the only electricity in evidence for much of the first quarter, at least from a Denver perspective. Early on, the Broncos offense moved in fits and starts -- something that seldom results in points. Worse, the Ravens, after some early struggles, began clicking, putting the first points on the board via a Flacco-to-Vonta Leach TD.
But the Ravens machine began to sputter after receiver Jacoby Jones was plowed under by his own teammate while trying to collect a second-quarter punt, and The Blindside centerpiece Michael Oher got pretty much the same treatment while watching Ray Rice run for Baltimore's second score.
After that, the Ravens looked undermanned, confused and exhausted -- ripe for the picking, as it were. But the Broncos took their sweet time taking advantage. The Rice score wouldn't have happened if new acquisition Wes Welker hadn't muffed a punt -- an ironic gaffe, since he'd been put into the game to prevent main returner Trindon Holliday from doing the very same thing. And then, on a key third down early in the third quarter, with the Broncos trailing 17-14, Welker couldn't handle a Manning low-ball. Granted, he brought it in, but with a little help from the turf.
Continue for more about the Broncos victory, including more photos and a video. However, the referees somehow didn't catch the pigskin's contact with the ground, and neither did the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff -- not in time, anyhow. And the Broncos used this break to their advantage, with Manning promptly cashing in with a six-point pass to Andre Caldwell...and then one to Welker...and another one to Welker...and a strike to Demaryius Thomas....
Add those to the pair of first-half scores to enormous tight end Julius Thomas and that brought Manning's TD pass total to six. This performance should have been more than enough to guarantee a W, especially after linebacker Danny Trevathan jumped a Flacco route and headed toward the end zone with an interception, untouched by anyone in purple. But in a move that would have landed him in the all-time Bonehead Hall of Fame had the tilt ended differently, Trevathan dropped the ball before he crossed the goal line, wiping the digits from the scoreboard and giving the Ravens new life.
Then again, without this botch, Manning wouldn't have made a little more NFL history. After a Ravens score, which raised at least a dim possibility for an epic Baltimore comeback, Manning hit Demaryius Thomas again, this time on a short route that didn't end until he was at the other end of the field.
The tally meant Manning was the first NFL quarterback to throw seven touchdown passes in a single game since Joe Kapp in 1969. (Loved Joe Kapp.) And it also deflated Flacco and the Ravens once and for all.
Of course, we can't expect Manning to be similarly productive every week. The excitement of opening night, the revenge factor, and the Ravens' big turnover in personnel since last season, which resulted in a number of blown assignments, aided him to a significant degree on this crazy night. But the Broncos defense got better as the night went on and proved it could play with a lead, Denver's running-back-by-committee approach worked fine, and the emergence of Julius Thomas and Welker compensated for poor performances by the likes of Eric Decker, whose hands of stone can't be all that pleasant for new bride Jessie James.
In other words, the Broncos gave fans a reason to stay excited on week one of a new campaign, even as it brought three words to mind:
Here's an ESPN post-game analysis of the Denver victory.
More from our Sports archive: "Photos: Five things about the Broncos that make us madder than those stupid Joe Flacco signs."
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