Peyton spoils Shanahan’s return
Rolled-up game plan in hand, Mike Shanahan squinted at the scoreboard and saw a familiar sight: His team comfortably ahead as the sun began setting behind the Rocky Mountains.
Boy, did Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos flip that script in a hurry.
Manning overcame four turnovers and Denver overcame a two-touchdown deficit Sunday to score the last 38 points in what turned into a 45-21 runaway over the former Denver coach’s current team, the Washington Redskins.
"You can’t give Peyton that many opportunities because he’s going to take advantage of it," said Shanahan, coaching in Denver for the first time since the Broncos fired him in 2008.
Manning threw for 354 yards and four touchdowns and the Denver defense came up with a season-high five turnovers — more than enough to overcome three interceptions and a lost fumble by the Broncos quarterback.
"That stuff happens in football," Manning said. "We haven’t had a ton of that, but the fact we were able to overcome it was critical."
After DeAngelo Hall returned one of Manning’s interceptions 26 yards for a 21-7 lead, Manning began a meticulous run of football that saw the Broncos (7-1) use a total of 27 plays to go 75 and 83 yards for touchdowns that tied the game.
"With Peyton," Redskins safety Jordan Pugh said, "the points are always there."
So are the yards. Manning hit the halfway point of the season with 2,919 yards — most through eight games in NFL history.
Trying to match him on this day was Robert Griffin III, who finished 15 for 30 for 132 yards, one score and two interceptions before leaving with a hurt left knee. Afterward, he said it was fine.
Tied at 21, Griffin threw three straight incompletions and Sav Rocca followed by shanking a punt 15 yards. On the next play, Manning gave Denver a 28-21 lead with a screen pass Knowshon Moreno took in for a 35-yard touchdown.
Von Miller ended the next drive with his first sack and forced fumble of the season to set up a Denver field goal for a 10-point lead, and Washington (2-5) never got closer.
"It was like a blur," Hall said. "Someone asked me, `What went wrong, what happened?’ To be brutally honest, I don’t remember. I looked up one point, 21-7, felt good, everybody smiling. Turned around and it … was 38-21."
The Broncos made it 45-21 when Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked off backup Kirk Cousins and returned the interception 75 yards.
Denver came in with the league’s worst pass defense, but that will probably change. Also getting interceptions were Chris Harris, Rahim Moore and Shaun Phillips.
"The first half didn’t go the way we planned," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "Coming out in the second half, the main thing coach said was go out there and fight, don’t look at the scoreboard, wait until it’s zeros in the fourth quarter and look up and I promise you, you’ll like where we are."
Denver is putting up video-game numbers. This week, the Broncos scored a franchise-record 31 points in the fourth quarter, which gave them 343 for the season. That’s an average of 42.8 and the most through eight games in NFL history.
But all those numbers are masking some problems as the Broncos reach their bye, with two games against division-leading Kansas City looming.
Most notably, Manning has not looked as sharp the last three weeks as he did the first five.
Yes, he went 30 for 44 and hit four receivers for scores: Moreno, Joel Dreessen, Thomas and Wes Welker, who scored for a career-high ninth time.
But Manning doubled his interceptions total for the season and lost a fumble, bringing Denver’s season total to 11 lost fumbles. In all, the quarterback simply didn’t look as comfortable as he did the first five weeks, before he sprained an ankle that forced him to miss his first regular-season practice as a Bronco last week.
He didn’t want to speculate on the injuries but said he’ll take a lot from the way the Broncos came back against Washington.
"No panic. No finger pointing," Manning said. "Just determined."
Shanahan, meanwhile, fell to 88-32 as a head coach in Denver’s stadium, including a win with the Raiders in 1988. The bad ending was a splash of cold water for the coach who brought the only two Super Bowl trophies to Denver. And on a day that began with such promise: a video tribute, a warm ovation from the fans and that two-touchdown lead.
"It’s very easy to get kind of fired up, especially coming back here and wanting to win the football game," Shanahan said. "That’s why it’s disappointing when you have the opportunity there in the third quarter and you don’t take advantage of those opportunities."
Notes: Broncos S Duke Ihenacho and TE Julius Thomas left the game with ankle injuries. … The Broncos finished 4-0 against the NFC East this season by a combined score of 189-112. … The Redskins’ five defensive touchdowns this year mark the most since 1994.