Peyton Manning, Broncos Hold Off Colts to Start Well

(Photo: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports)
(Photo: Ron Chenoy, USA TODAY Sports)

With hours to kill before his team kicked off its season Sunday night, Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton thought he’d find a distraction in afternoon football.

But as he flipped around the television dial to check out the NFL’s early slate of games, all he saw was chaos. The New England Patriots lost in Miami. The Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens lost at home. Not that Knighton had doubted the importance of the Broncos’ game against the Indianapolis Colts before — but those early outcomes only reinforced to Knighton and the Broncos just what was at stake.

“It crossed my mind. We HAVE to win this game,” Knighton said. “We have to start well.”

Hours later, Knighton’s Broncos jumped to a 24-7 halftime lead against the Indianapolis Colts and held on to win 31-24 — and in the process, reasserted themselves as the AFC’s best team. The Broncos haven’t been shy about their Super Bowl aspirations, and on Sunday debuted a revamped team that they believe won’t just be good enough to win another AFC title, but will be good enough to win it all — a team that is deeper, stronger, and nastier than the one blown out by the Seattle Seahawks seven months ago.

“It showed we are on a mission,” Knighton told USA TODAY Sports. “The guys that were here, what happened in the Super Bowl, it’s in the back of our minds. It’s tough getting there and losing. But all that did was fuel us, we want to get back to where we were, get to Arizona.”

After an offseason of reminders about their shortcomings — how their high-powered but finesse offense fizzled, and how the defense was short-handed and over-matched, the Broncos provided a resounding a reminder that the road to the Super Bowl in Glendale, Ariz., very likely could have to come through Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Here, there were no jitters for Peyton Manning, playing his old team for the second time. All he did in his 2014 debut was toss three touchdowns, all to tight end Julius Thomas who finished with seven catches for 104 yards, to maintain the torrid pace he set last year when he won his fifth MVP award. He did it Sunday without his slot receiver-slash-security blanket Wes Welker, who is serving the first week of a four-game suspension, finding a more-than-adequate replacement in Emmanuel Sanders, who had six catches for 77 yards. Manning led a fourth touchdown drive in the fourth quarter, with Montee Ball’s three-yard run ultimately being enough cushion amid yet another late comeback bid by Andrew Luck.

But there had been little doubt from the Broncos that Manning and the offense would be fine — even after losing a starting guard, wide receiver and running back in free agency. Everything the Broncos did in the months since the Super Bowl loss was about fortifying the team around Manning and becoming a team that could win with its defense, and not in spite of it.

The Broncos invested heavily this offseason in overhauling and healing up the defense, and in its first big test, the Broncos got big contributions from several of the new additions. Defensive end DeMarcus Ware had 1½ sacks, including one on third-and-goal in the red zone that that forced the Colts to settle for a field goal.

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Lindsay H. Jones

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