DENVER – Peyton Manning sure didn’t need Wes Welker in this heart-pounding opener. He threw three touchdown passes to tight end Julius Thomas in the first half and the Denver Broncos held on to beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-24 on Sunday night.
In his second try, Manning beat his old team and joined Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to beat each of the current 32 NFL franchises.
“It means I’m old,” Manning cracked.
More heart-pounders like this and Manning will go gray.
The Broncos raced out to a 24-0 lead, a perfect test for GM John Elway’s blueprints for returning to the Super Bowl. He spent more than $100 million on a defensive makeover and retooled his offensive line.
The Broncos were unable to close this one out like they wanted, however.
With Welker serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, the Broncos couldn’t convert third downs, going 1-for-7 in the second half after a first half in which they went 6 of 7.
“We’ve got to find a way to play all four quarters as an offense,” Manning said. “Thank goodness the defense picked us up when the offense wasn’t doing their job quite as well.”
The Broncos fended off a furious comeback attempt by Andrew Luck, who was working wonders behind a patchwork offensive line.
“We did manage to take advantage of some opportunities in the second half that we didn’t in the first. It was good to get that two-minute drive right at the end of the half,” said Luck, whose 9-yard scamper made it 24-7 at the break and provided a spark for the Colts.
“Obviously, when you start the way that we started, you dig yourself a hole you can’t come back from,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.
Both teams left the stadium talking about needing to clean up their play.
“It wasn’t the best win, but guess what, it was a great opener,” said DeMarcus Ware, who had 1½ sacks in his Denver debut after franchise-high 117 in nine seasons in Dallas.
Falcons 37, Saints 24 (OT): In Atlanta, Matt Bryant kicked a 51-yard field goal on the final play of regulation, then booted a 52-yarder in overtime.
Bills 23, Bears 20 (OT): In Chicago, Fred Jackson set up Dan Carpenter’s field goal in overtime with a 38-yard run to the 1.
Steelers 30, Browns 27: In Pittsburgh, Shaun Suisham drilled a 41-yard field goal as time expired.
Bengals 23, Ravens 16: In Baltimore, A.J. Green caught a 77-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton, and the Bengals blew a 15-point lead before bouncing back.
Dolphins 33, Patriots 20: In Miami Gardens, Florida, Knowshon Moreno rushed for 134 yards and a touchdown, Ryan Tannehill threw for two scores.
Eagles 34, Jaguars 17: In Philadelphia, Nick Foles threw a 68-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin in the fourth quarter and the Eagles rallied from a 17-0 second-half deficit.
Texans 17, Redskins 6: In Houston, rookie Alfred Blue blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown and J.J. Watt lived up to his massive new contract.
Vikings 34, Rams 6: In St. Louis, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson ran for 102 yards on three carries with a 67-yard scoring run off a simple pitchout.
Titans 26, Chiefs 10: In Kansas City, Jake Locker threw for 266 yards and two touchdowns, while Alex Smith was intercepted three times.
Jets 19, Raiders 14: In East Rutherford, New Jersey, Chris Ivory burst through a few tackle attempts for a 71-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter.
Panthers 20, Buccaneers 14: In Tampa, Derek Anderson filled in nicely for the injured Cam Newton, throwing for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
49ers 28, Cowboys 17: In Arlington, Texas, Colin Kaepernick threw two touchdown passes to Vernon Davis, one right after the first of three interceptions of Tony Romo.