Manning befuddles Saints yet again as Broncos roll
DENVER — The city and uniform color may be different, but Peyton Manning looked the same to the New Orleans Saints.
Going into Sunday night’s game, Manning had averaged nearly 300 yards per game with 11 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 116.3 passer rating in four regular-season meetings with the Saints.
Facing his hometown team for the first time since a loss to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV, when he was with the Indianapolis Colts, Manning had his way with the NFL’s 32nd-ranked defense in the Denver Broncos’ 34-14 victory over New Orleans.
Manning completed 22 of 30 passes for 305 yards and three touchdowns, and the Broncos scored 27 unanswered points that turned a 7-7 game midway through the second quarter into a rout early in the fourth.
The Broncos (4-3) went on to finish the evening with 530 yards, marking the seventh straight game the Saints (2-5) have given up at least 400 yards. They have now been roughed up for 3,323 yards and an average of 474.7 per game.
“I’m sure the coaches will find some mistakes on the film,” said Manning, who had a passer rating of 138.9. “But it sure was close (to what the Broncos were hoping for). Coming off the bye week, we thought we should be better and we corrected some things that were giving us trouble the first few games.
“We really came out … offensively, defensively and special teams — kind of feeding off each other,” he added. “I thought, pretty much, that we played a complete game.”
Manning tossed TDs of 13 and 2 yards to Eric Decker and a 1-yarder to Demaryius Thomas. Willis McGahee rushed for 122 yards and a touchdown on 23 attempts.
Matt Prater, who kicked a pair of 33-yard field goals, ended the first half with his first one as the Broncos took a 17-7 lead to the locker room after the Saints had a chance to go ahead in the period.
An 18-yard completion to tight end Jimmy Graham, back in the lineup after missing last week’s game with a sprained ankle, and an 8-yard run by Pierre Thomas moved the Saints to the Broncos’ 47.
But two incompletions by Drew Brees, who connected with running back Darren Sproles for a 29-yard TD pass on the first play of the second quarter to tie the game, brought up fourth down.
Saints interim coach Joe Vitt initially sent the punt team out, but then reconsidered during a timeout.
Needing 2 yards for a first down, Brees’ pass over the middle for Graham was intercepted by Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
After that, it was all Manning and the Broncos.
Manning needed just five plays to take his team 56 yards, and his 13-yard TD pass to Decker put them ahead for good. And after the Saints were forced to punt, a 72-yard drive netted Prater’s first field goal.
“At halftime, quite frankly, we were where we wanted to be,” Vitt said. “We were winning the time of possession. We knew we had to do a better job on third down to maintain possessions and wound up 1-of-12.
“We’ve also got to do a better job stopping the run, defensively, and we’ll continue to make that a premium and work on it.”
In the second half, the Broncos came out and marched 93 yards in 11 plays, capping the drive with Manning’s 1-yard scoring toss to Thomas, who caught seven passes for 137 yards with a long gain of 41.
It was the second touchdown drive of at least 90 yards for the Broncos, who went 98 yards in 11 plays to McGahee’s TD in the first quarter.
Manning finished off the Saints with his second TD of the night to Decker on the first play of the final quarter.
“It’s very disappointing,” Saints defensive end Will Smith said. “I think it’s safe to say that we struggled across the board. We weren’t able to get points offensively, and defensively, we weren’t able to get the stops we needed.”
After Prater kicked his second field goal, the Saints were finally able to break the Broncos’ scoring streak when Brees threw an 18-yard TD to Graham with 2:03 remaining in the game.
The touchdowns for Brees were the 300th and 301st of his 12-year career, moving him into sixth place on the NFL’s all-time list.
Brees and the Saints’ offense struggled for most of the night, however. They managed a season-low 252 total yards thanks to an 80-yard drive that resulted in Graham’s touchdown just before the two-minute warning.
Brees was 22-of-42 for 213 yards with two TDs and one interception and a passer rating of 72.8.
“I’ve got to do a better job of preparing our football team,” said Vitt, who returned from a six-game suspension. “I’ve got to do a better job of getting our football team ready — physically, mentally and emotionally — to play in a game like this.”