With their win over the San Diego Chargers, the Denver Broncos created an interesting situation in the AFC – Only two teams (Houston Texas, Baltimore Ravens, both 5-1) are above .500. Not that this matters to Peyton Manning, orchestrating an impressive second half comeback.
From 24-0 down at home, the Broncos come away with a 35-24 win and now tied (shared) for the lead in the AFC West along with the Chargers. And it was as much about Peyton Manning pulling himself together and delivering a sublime second half as it was about the Broncos defense simply stepping up, destroying Philip Rivers and shutting things down in the second half.
Before we get to Manning and a special day for him on his comeback season, we have to return to Rivers, who delivered one of the worst displays ever seen on an NFL field in the second half. How bad? Two fumbles, one of them returned for a touchdown; three interceptions in the fourth quarter alone, one of them returned for a touchdown. Something always manages to go wrong for this team under this head coach. Food for thought.
But the hero of the day was Manning, who always gets most of the attention anyway. He finished with 24-30 for 309 yards, three touchdowns passes that eliminated yet another interception on a over ambitious attempt, returned by Quinton Jammer for a touchdown. Nothing worked during the first half, despite Manning having a decent day with his decisions and passing. In the second half, it was pretty much perfect.
Manning became more aggressive with his passing in the second half, but that didn’t hurt his accuracy. The incosistency of the Chargers defense came to light, and Manning had just one incompletion after halftime even though he aired it out more, averaging 8.2 air yards per attempt compared with 5.2 in the first half.
And the whole Manning can’t hit the deep ball anymore? Wasn’t true in that second half zone. He was 4-of-4 for 130 yards and two touchdowns on throws more than 20 yards down field including three in the second half. Manning has four touchdowns on such passes this season, tied for second most in the NFL. He’s 11-17 on such passes in weeks 3-6, compared to 0-5 in the first three weeks. If the arm and velocity have degraded, it means his decision making needs to be better, his reads need to be better. They were impeccable in the second half against the Chargers.
And the defense… The trainwreck that was Philip Rivers in the second half was painful to watch. The Broncos hardly showed any pressure and blitzing in the first half, and every time they did, Rivers looked for Antonio Gates (6 catches, 81 yards, 2 touchdowns) each time. In the second half, the Broncos sent five or more pass rushers at Rivers 12 times, but Rivers never looked for Gates. Using defensive backs as added pressure worked out perfectly, as Rivers got sacked twice and turned the ball over 3 times on those moments.
The AFC West is wide open, and with this win, it looks like the momentum is where many thought it would be the moment they heard Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos. This season, there’s no quarterback controversy, with Manning even showing MVP glimpses from time to time.