Did you hear the one about Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos struggling? Manning has, and his response is scoreboard.
“I guess we’re 1-0, is where we are,” Manning said. “I’m really trying to remind people it’s a Broncos unit, it’s not three separate teams.”
Those units arrive at Arrowhead Stadium on Thursday following a 19-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens that produced this oddity: It marked only the third time in Manning’s career that his team won a game without scoring an offensive touchdown. The other occasions happened while he played for the Colts.
Broncos-Ravens was a slugfest between outstanding defenses, but the teams were led by quarterbacks who have played in two of the past three Super Bowls. They didn’t produce.
The 39-year-old Manning and the Ravens’ Joe Flacco couldn’t get their teams in the end zone, and they each threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
Concern over the Broncos’ attack started in the preseason. Denver’s 11 possessions without a touchdown on Sunday extended the drought to 21 on Manning-led drives, including preseason games.
The Broncos have a new coach in Gary Kubiak and new offensive coordinator, Rick Dennison, who returned to the club after serving in the same role from 2006-08. And Manning is playing in front of a reconstructed offensive line.
On a day when Manning completed 24 of 40 passes for 175 yards and a long of 18, the Ravens sacked him four times. He wasn’t sacked more than three times in a game last season. Getting on the same page continues to be a work in progress.
“In this league, you come out of the preseason and I don’t think anybody knows a heck of a lot,” Kubiak said. “As time goes on you get a little more familiar with each other. We know we’re playing a heck of a football team and in a very tough place to play, so we have to focus on ourselves and need to play better than we did last week.”
That means an improved offense across the board. The Broncos also didn’t get much from their running game Sunday, either, compiling 69 yards and a 2.8-yard per carry average. But they ran 11 times on their final and most successful possession, moving 81 yards that chewed nearly all of the fourth quarter and resulted in a field goal for the game’s final points.
Denver clinched the game when Darian Stewart intercepted a Flacco pass in the end zone in the final seconds.
The Chiefs aren’t buying a diminished Manning or Broncos and sheepishly point to their own scoreboard, having lost six straight to Manning in a Denver uniform and 13 of 14 to him in his career.
In 12 regular-season games, Manning has carved up the Chiefs with 25 touchdown passes against eight interceptions and 3,379 yards.
Struggle? Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said it’s all about the context.
“The only reason you hear about struggle is because Peyton Manning is always up here,” said Johnson while holding his right hand above his head. “When he’s down here he finds a way to win.”
Johnson was a senior at Texas the last time the Chiefs defeated Manning, during the 2004 regular season. Since then there have been eight regular-season victories and one of his two playoff triumphs, including the no-punt game with the Colts at Arrowhead Stadium after the 2003 season.
“Every game isn’t perfect with Peyton but we’re not going into this game saying, ‘Oh, man, this our chance, Peyton isn’t the same,’ “ Johnson said. “Trust me, when we go out there there’s nothing but respect for Peyton Manning and what he has going on. If we’re not on our stuff he can blow the socks off you.”