Good Morning, Broncos fans! Rumors of the demise of Peyton Manning's arm strength were shown yesterday to be greatly exaggerated. No surprise there.
Unfortunately, the quality of Denver's defense was also proven overstated, and Peyton & Co. again ran out of time attempting a furious comeback from a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit.
Denver scored two touchdowns in the final stanza, but it wasn't enough, as the Broncos dropped to 1-2 with a 31-25 loss (Gamebook) to Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips's Texans.
Jack Del Rio's guys got tuned up for three Matt Schaub touchdown passes within a twelve-minute, four-second span, in a nightmarish first half that netted the Texans a staggering 285 yards of offense.
Were it not for a timely Wesley Woodyard interception near the end of the first half - a swing of six or ten points, after Matt Prater's third FG - the game may have been over before Rod Smith took his rightful place among the Broncos' greats in the Ring of Fame.
One quarter later, it seemed the game was indeed done with, before Mike McCoy and John Fox took the reins off of Manning's trademark no-huddle offense. Why it took that long? Not sure we'll ever know.
What is apparent, is that Manning and his receivers are still not quite comfortable with each other.
Eric Decker's drops and decisions to slide late in the third quarter and return Houston's final punt were stunning; Demaryius Thomas also dropped a pass or two, and his failure to drag his feet on his would-be fourth-quarter TD catch wasted about 90 seconds when time was Denver's most desperate commodity.
Peyton, whose passes could have been located better at times, deserves some of the blame for the performance of an offense that scored just nine first-half points on seven possessions despite a very good average starting field position (Denver's own 29). The unit netted but one yard on eleven plays in the third quarter, and their first possession of the fourth quarter also ended in a punt.
Chris Kuper can't return soon enough, whether it's this week or next. Manny Ramirez was but a turnstile for Texans star J.J. Watt, who tallied seven tackles, including four for a loss, 2.5 sacks, and three hits on Manning.
Ronnie Hillman was activated for the first time - at the expense of Knowshon Moreno - but he only had three touches, for eight yards. Lance Ball, the center of that RB sandwich of mediocrity, had eight touches for a useless sixteen yards.
As for the defense, it did come up with two big takeaways, after gaining none in Atlanta. Woodyard's acrobatic interception was followed later by a fumble forced by Kevin Vickerson and recovered by Justin Bannan, leading to Denver's first touchdown.
And they did stiffen some in the second half, permitting just 151 net yards and ten points.
But missing from those numbers are the 45 yards in needless penalties Denver handed Houston in a five-play span during the third quarter, essentially handing the Texans a field goal. FWIW, I think the hit by Joe Mays that cost Matt Schaub part of his ear was a dirty one, and deserving of the flag. Mays does say that he expects a fine from the league.
Before that, and after Elvis Dumervil's game-opening sack/safety, the defense was virtually nonexistent.
Kubes's offense hearkened back to his days running Denver's, with seven first-half plays going for at least 18 yards. Mays and Keith Brooking were lost defending the run, and breakdowns in the secondary helped the Texans score on touchdown passes of 60 and 52 yards.
Denver again allowed a touchdown catch to an opposing tight end, and how's that $4.5M guarantee paid to Mays sounding right about now? Following next week's matchup against Oakland, Rob Gronkowski, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham loom in consecutive games. Young Raiders TE Brandon Myers will be no pushover either, as he's averaging five catches and 68.3 yards per game.
In the end, the game wasn't the disaster it was looking like it would be in the middle quarters. But this offense isn't yet running smoothly enough to overcome twenty-point deficits, and the defense can't blame the replacement officials for its shoddy performance yesterday.
Division play begins Sunday for Denver, as Dennis Allen brings his Raiders to town. For much of the day, it looked like they'd be limping in at 0-3, but a 13-0 fourth quarter was topped off with a Sebastian Janikowski kick at the gun, sending the Steelers home with a stunning 34-31 loss. The game was delayed for over ten frightful minutes after Oakland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey was knocked out cold; he was hospitalized but is in stable condition.
The Chiefs also pulled off a late shocker, beating the Saints in New Orleans 27-24 by scoring 21 straight points in unusual fashion - a 91-yard run by Jamaal Charles, four field goals, and a safety. Drew Brees failed to complete a pass for the final 27 minutes and 34 seconds of the game, and the scabs took away a second-quarter TD pass from Brees to Pierre Thomas without overwhelming evidence.
So instead of the Raiders and Chiefs being 0-3, both are tied with the Broncos at 1-2.
At least the Chargers lost, and in disastrous fashion at that. Philip Rivers & Co. turned it over four times in a 27-3 thrashing by the Falcons. They'll head to Kansas City to face the Chiefs on Sunday. Oh, and Phil is a baby.
Both safeties were apparently to blame for Johnson's long touchdown; Tracy Porter departed with a knee injury, Nate Irving left with a concussion, Willis McGahee hurt his ribs, and Jacob Tamme suffered a groin strain but came back.
Mays says he was also fined $21K for a hit against the Falcons that went unflagged; Matthew Willis hurt a hamstring, while Orlando Franklin and Chris Harris left the locker room limping.
Since his more famous brother endorses them, Chris Gronkowski handed out blue and orange Zubaz pants earlier in the week at Dove Valley.
Torrey Smith, who lost his younger brother just a day earlier, caught two touchdown passes to lead the Ravens to a 31-30 victory over the Patriots. It was a game marred by 24 accepted penalties, and Bill Belichick can expect a hefty fine after he grabbed the arm of a replacement line judge following the game. A caped streaker spent almost a full minute on the field unmolested.
Tennessee topped Detroit 44-41 in overtime of a game that featured five Titans touchdowns of at least 61 yards - a punt return, a kickoff return, a fumble return, and two Jake Locker passes. The Lions sent the game into overtime by scoring two touchdowns in the final 18 seconds of regulation, but Detroit's center snapped the ball in OT on fourth-and-inches from Tennessee's seven-yard line, when Jim Schwartz only wanted his team to attempt to draw an offsides penalty. The officiating was a disaster throughout, with the Titans gaining 27 yards on a personal foul call in the most glaring error.
The Jets eked out a 23-20 victory in OT over the Dolphins, after Miami negated a FG block by calling a timeout to ice Nick Folk, who put the next kick through for the game-winner. The win may come at an enormous price, however, as Darrelle Revis is feared to have a torn ACL.
Buffalo lost C.J. Spiller to a shoulder injury, but beat the Browns 24-14 thanks to three TD passes by Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Jacksonville beat Indianapolis 22-17 on a last-minute 80-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert to Cecil Shorts III.
Arizona is 3-0 for the first time since 1974 after beating the Eagles 27-6, because all Kevin Kolb does is win.
Chicago beat St. Louis 23-6 as their defense sacked Sam Bradford six times and returned one of their two interceptions of him for a touchdown.
Dallas beat Tampa Bay 16-10, but at least the Cowboys were ready for Greg Schiano's guys to blitz their victory formation, which they did - three times. Dallas lost safety Barry Church for the year with an Achilles injury.