No TD passes for Peyton Manning, but Broncos hold off Bills
These Denver Broncos aren't as slick as last year's high-flying, record-breaking bunch, the one that was stopped cold in the Super Bowl.
"We're much more complete and we've got an identity now," Chris Harris Jr. said after the Broncos overcame a rare unsteady outing by Peyton Manning to beat the Buffalo Bills 24-17 Sunday behind C.J. Anderson's three touchdown runs.
Manning's streak of 51 games with a touchdown throw -- three shy of Drew Brees' NFL record -- ended on a sun-splashed, almost still afternoon with the game-time temperature a balmy 63 degrees. Despite three turnovers, the Broncos (10-3) won their third straight game since changing from a pass-oriented attack to a run-heavy approach.
"I hope fans will still keep coming to the games," Manning deadpanned.
The five-time MVP who's made a living throwing the ball insisted he's fine with handing it off.
"I'm comfortable with winning," Manning said. "That's what I'm comfortable with."
And he said he's enjoying watching Anderson, who contributed a tough 58 yards on 21 carries, as much as the fans are.
"Sometimes I get a minus on my grade sheet for not carrying out my fake, but I like to kind of watch him," Manning said. "He makes a lot of guys miss."
Manning finished 14 of 20 for 173 yards with two interceptions. His top receiver, Demaryius Thomas, was hobbled by bruised right ankle and held to two catches for 11 yards, and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle) didn't play for the third straight week.
"Today was tough and a struggle, but at the end the day we got the `W,' and he's proud about that and we're proud about that," Anderson said.
Any week, he said, Manning "can go out there and throw eight touchdowns. We all sat here and saw him throw seven touchdowns (against Baltimore last year). I don't think there's anything wrong with 18, I think he's completely fine. It's up to us to help him."
Wes Welker did, awakening from a season-long slumber to lead the Broncos with six catches for 82 yards.
"This was not the game for the receivers to have a lot of big numbers," Manning said, "but Wes' play helped us get this victory."
Former Broncos QB Kyle Orton had a day like Manning usually does: 38 of 57 for 355 yards. He led the Bills (7-6) on two long TD drives in the fourth quarter after they'd fallen behind 21-3.
His 38 completions tied a team record and his 58 attempts is a franchise high.
"Not good enough to beat a good football team," said Orton, who was sacked four times.
Manning threw two interceptions deep in Buffalo territory and tight end Jacob Tamme fumbled at the Bills 10-yard line. Otherwise, it wouldn't have come down to David Bruton Jr.'s recovery of an onside kick in the final minute.
"They've got a great defense," Buffalo receiver Sammy Watkins said. "They do a lot of things, a lot of moving parts moving around, a lot of switching off, so you have to be disciplined."
With Manning out of sorts, Anderson bailed out the Broncos with TD runs of 6, 1 and 3 yards. The latter score followed a 47-yard burst by fellow undrafted tailback Juwan Thompson.
The Broncos had three takeaways for the second straight week, including a goal line interception by Harris in the third quarter that led to a 50-yard field goal by Connor Barth.
"It feels good to be balanced," Emmanuel Sanders said.
A month ago, Denver's offense was a mess, with the line taking heavy heat after Manning threw 54 passes and handed off just nine times in a decisive loss at St. Louis.
"As you guys noted, three weeks ago we weren't nothing, we were garbage, we were terrible," Orlando Franklin said, repeating some of the things that were said about his O-line last month.
After holding Buffalo without a sack for the first time in more than a year, Denver's line is being praised, not pilloried.
"You have to give it to the big boys up front," said Anderson.
NOTES: With 127 yards on seven catches, Watkins became the first Bills rookie with four 100-yard games in a season. ... Manning threw just nine times in the first half, completing six. ... Corey Graham intercepted a pass and recovered.