Saints no match for Manning, Broncos in 34-7 loss
Drew Brees came to Denver and surpassed John Elway. He was no match for Peyton Manning.
Brees welcomed back New Orleans Saints interim coach Joe Vitt from his bounty banishment by extending his NFL record to 50 straight games with a touchdown toss, the 300th of his career. He added another just before the 2-minute warning that surpassed Elway for sixth on the career list.
Almost nothing else went right for the Saints in a 34-14 loss to the Denver Broncos on Sunday night.
''That was a very poor performance on our part,'' Brees said. ''We were not able to sustain drives and we left our defense out there entirely too long. That was just very stale. It never felt like we could get anything going - 1 of 12 on third downs? That's pitiful.''
The Saints (2-5) became the first team to allow 400-plus yards in seven straight games since at least 1950, which is as far back as STATS LLC can search its NFL database.
And they fell a staggering five games behind Atlanta in the NFC South a year after going 13-3, continuing a tumultuous season since the NFL penalized them for running a money-for-hits bounty pool.
''I've got to do a better job of preparing our football team,'' Vitt said. ''I've got to do a better job of getting the team ready physically, mentally and emotionally to play in a game like this.''
Manning set a Broncos' record with his fifth straight 300-yard game, tying his personal best he set to start the 2009 season with Indianapolis. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns despite banging his right thumb on a helmet late in the first half, and the Broncos (4-3) took over sole possession of first place in the AFC West.
Brees was 22 of 42 for 213 yards, two TDs and one interception.
He was stifled all night by an energized Denver defense led by linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who had a sack, an interception, a forced fumble, two pass breakups and 13 tackles.
Brees threw a 29-yard scoring strike to Darren Sproles on the first play of the second quarter, tying it at 7.
He didn't do much else until directing a 15-play, 80-yard drive and finding tight end Jimmy Graham - back from a sprained right ankle - with an 18-yard touchdown toss with 2:03 left in the game after the Broncos had scored 27 straight points.
''We just couldn't sustain drives tonight,'' Graham said. ''We had a lot of three-and-outs, you can't do that. We're not used to that. We've got to watch the film.''
It won't be any prettier than the live feed, which the fourth-largest home crowd in Broncos history relished.
In the first matchup in NFL history pitting two quarterbacks who had thrown three or more TD passes in each of his last three games, both teams turned to their ground games to chew up yards, clock and keep the other team's prolific passer on the sideline as much as they could.
It worked for the Broncos but not the Saints, who were outgained 530 yards to 252. The Broncos hadn't held a team to this few yards since 2009.
The Saints managed just 51 yards rushing to Denver's 225, including 122 by Willis McGahee, who made up for his lost fumble with a touchdown run.
The Saints, 2-8 in franchise history against the Broncos, caught their only big break when McGahee fumbled at midfield and New Orleans linebacker Curtis Lofton recovered.
Four plays later, Brees hit Sproles over the middle for the tying touchdown.
Things quickly went sour.
Woodyard intercepted a pass from Brees on fourth-and-2 from midfield, and Manning converted the takeaway into his first TD pass of the night, a 13-yarder to a wide-open Eric Decker that gave Denver a 14-7 lead.
For at least one week, the Saints had every player and coach but head coach Sean Payton back from the bounty suspensions, but they failed to make the most of it.
Fresh off his seven-week bounty banishment, Vitt rejoined the team on its flight home from Tampa Bay last week and was on the sideline Sunday night for the first time since the preseason.
The Saints lost their first four games under Vitt's interim replacement, offensive line coach Aaron Kromer, before winning their last two games. Now, they face a difficult task in climbing into playoff contention.
''This football team has been through a lot. It's been put through a lot, but it's not an excuse for the way we played tonight,'' Vitt said. ''It's not an excuse for dropped balls, missed tackles. We're all going to be held accountable. We're all in an evaluation process right now and we need to get better.''
Topping Vitt's agenda is fixing the NFL's worst defense statistically. The Saints have allowed a staggering 3,323 yards under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
The defense's emotional leader, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, with his season-long bounty suspension on appeal, played in his second straight game and had four tackles.
The Broncos were without cornerback Tracy Porter, who missed his second straight game because of symptoms he continues to experience following a seizure he had in August. Porter was held out of practice most of the week and visited a doctor in hopes of being cleared to play against his former team.
The last time Manning and Brees squared off, in the 2010 Super Bowl, it was Porter who stole the spotlight, returning an interception 74 yards to seal the Saints' 24-17 win over the Colts.
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