ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The questions surrounding Peyton Manning last year were all about his right arm. This season, they were about his shoulders — as in, are they broad enough to carry the Denver Broncos in Von Miller's absence?
Manning provided an emphatic answer Thursday night, dissecting Baltimore's refurbished defense with a masterpiece of a performance the likes of which hadn't been seen in the NFL since the 1960s.
With their All-Pro linebacker sitting out the first game of his six-game suspension for violating the league's drug policy, Denver's offense more than picked up the slack in the 49-27 rout of the Super Bowl champions.
Manning joined Y.A. Tittle of the New York Giants as the only QBs to throw seven touchdown passes in a game without an interception. Tittle accomplished the feat 51 years ago.
"It's something ridiculous," said tight end Julius Thomas, on the receiving end of Manning's first two TD throws. "I think a couple guys were joking, we were saying it's like Madden — the only time you get to throw seven touchdowns."
Unless you're Peyton Manning in the flesh, just as good at 37 as he was at 27.
"I finally got to witness it live and see what he's capable of doing," said rookie running back Montee Ball.
Manning is the sixth QB to toss seven TD passes in a game and the first since Minnesota's Joe Kapp in 1969. This generation knows Kapp more for his throwdown with Angelo Mosca at a Canadian Football League alumni luncheon a couple of years ago that went viral on the Internet.
"Great Canadian quarterback out of Cal," said Manning. "Kicked the crap out of a guy on YouTube a couple of years ago, too."
A lot like what Manning did to the Super Bowl champs Thursday night.
Manning overcame a slow start and a 33-minute lightning delay to throw for 462 yards, the fourth-highest total in an opener. He completed 27 of 42 passes and showed precision all over the field, from the pinpoint pass to Bubba Caldwell along the left sideline for a 28-yard score to the short blitz-beating toss that Demaryius Thomas turned into a 78-yard score that gave Manning a share of the record.
"Well, we got into a good rhythm," Manning said. "It took us a while. I don't make excuses but I do think that lightning delay did slow us down."
If not for that, maybe Manning wakes up Friday with the record all to himself.
The others he now shares the mark with read like a Who's Who to some and to others, a Who's That?
Sid Luckman in '43, Adrian Burk in '54, George Blanda in '61.
"I barely remember people on the list," coach John Fox cracked. "One, I wasn't born yet. I actually recall the others. But I was very young. Like I said, I didn't really realize it until after the game. You're trying to score a lot of points, you don't really remember how you did it. But I mean, he's a remarkable guy and there were some great throws in there."
New offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who promised to push the pace this season, did just that, calling the shots as Manning threw five second-half touchdown passes. And he did so from the sideline, not the coaches booth, saving precious seconds because his calls didn't have to go through a third party on the way to Manning's helmet transmitter.
"He was very decisive," Manning said of Gase. "He was getting the plays in early. He had a good game plan, he had an aggressive game plan. We took some shots down the field, especially down there around the 30-, 40-yard line. We took some shots down the field and hit some plays. Yet, we were patient when we had to be. I thought he was really decisive all night."
Fastbreak football at altitude proved too much for a refurbished Ravens defense that's without emotional leaders Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
"We felt like we had to keep scoring because Baltimore can score at any time," said Manning, who watched Joe Flacco's 70-yard TD toss to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation tie their playoff game eight months ago. That propelled the Ravens to the Super Bowl title so many expected would be Denver's.
"Last year was last year. It is a new year for us," Manning said. "This was a good start to a new season for us. There is a good chance, hopefully, depending on how the season goes, you easily could expect to see Baltimore again.
"So, it's just a start, get a couple days' extra preparation for Week 2."
That's when the Broncos visit the Giants for another Manning vs. Manning matchup.
"We don't have to talk about that until Wednesday," said Manning, the talk of the football world this weekend after showing his right arm is strong again and his shoulders plenty wide.
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