Peyton Manning started the National Football League season in record fashion, throwing seven touchdown passes to lead the Denver Broncos to a 49-27 win against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
Manning is the sixth player in NFL history to throw seven scoring passes in a game and the first since Joe Kapp in 1969.
Five of Manning’s scoring passes came during the second half as the Broncos erased a 17-14 halftime deficit last night at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver. Wes Welker, Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas each caught two touchdown passes for the Broncos, who avenged a 38-35 double-overtime home loss to the Ravens in last year’s playoffs.
“It was an awesome night,” Manning said in a televised interview. “Baltimore has got a great defense and we had to be patient. We knew we could get some shots.”
The Broncos, who went 13-3 last season before losing to the Ravens, entered Week 1 as Super Bowl favorites, with the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book listing them at 5-1 odds. The Ravens were tied for 14th among the league’s 30 teams, with 30-1 odds of back-to-back titles.
While the game was close early, the Broncos pulled away in the second half behind the 37-year-old Manning, a four-time NFL Most Valuable Player in his second season in Denver. Manning completed 27 of 42 passes for 462 yards and joined Kapp, Sid Luckman (1943), Adrian Burk (1954), George Blanda (1961) and Y.A. Tittle (1962) as the only quarterbacks with seven touchdown passes in an NFL game.
Manning and the Broncos took control by scoring touchdowns on their first three third-quarter possessions.
Denver went ahead 21-17 on Manning’s 28-yard touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell and extended its lead just over two minutes later as Welker caught a short pass from Manning and spun free for a five-yard score.
Welker’s touchdown came two plays after the Broncos blocked a punt and made him the first player in NFL history to catch scoring passes from both Manning and Tom Brady, who have six MVP awards between them. Welker, who joined the Broncos during the offseason after spending the past six years with the New England Patriots, then caught a 2-yard touchdown pass on Denver’s next possession for a 35-17 lead.
“We saw Wes Welker is as good as we thought he was,” Manning said.
Manning also dropped a 26-yard pass into the hands of Demaryius Thomas less than two minutes into the fourth quarter to equal his previous career high of six touchdowns in a game.
The Broncos missed a chance to push their lead to 32 points when linebacker Danny Trevathan dropped the ball just before the end zone in a premature celebration after returning an interception for what appeared to be a sure touchdown. The Ravens regained possession and scored on Joe Flacco’s second touchdown pass, a 13-yarder to Marlon Brown.
After a Ravens field goal, Manning’s record-tying seventh touchdown came on a short pass to Demaryius Thomas, who broke free up the middle for a 78-yard score.
“He made some nice throws, but we can play better,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said at a news conference. “We gave him too many open guys, too many things that we have to get better at.”
The Broncos never led during the first half, as the Ravens were up 7-0, 14-7 and 17-14 after a two-yard touchdown catch by fullback Vonta Leach, a 1-yard run by Ray Rice and a 25-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.
Manning hooked up with Julius Thomas, a former college basketball player, for both of Denver’s first-half touchdowns. The first came one play after an interception thrown by Flacco at Baltimore’s 24-yard line. The second was from 23 yards out and came after the Ravens had taken a 14-7 lead following a fumbled punt return by Welker at the Denver 1-yard line.
Julius Thomas, a fourth-round draft pick out of Portland State in 2011, had one catch during his first two NFL seasons.
Last night marked the first time in 10 years that the reigning Super Bowl champions played their season opener on the road. The Ravens weren’t able to play at home due to a scheduling conflict with the Baltimore Orioles, who hosted a Major League Baseball game last night and are in the hunt for a playoff spot. The two teams share the same parking facilities.
The start of last night’s game was delayed for more than a half-hour because of lightning in the Denver area.
The NFL’s first full day is Sept. 8, when 13 games are scheduled, including the New York Giants visiting the Dallas Cowboys in the first Sunday night game of the season. There are two games on Sept. 9, including the Washington Redskins hosting the Philadelphia Eagles and new coach Chip Kelly.