It wasn't Peyton Manning's night in Atlanta.
Manning had a dreadful start, tossing three interceptions on his first three offensive drives. The defense did their part and limited the Falcons to just 13 points off four Denver turnovers, but the Broncos still lost, 27-21.
Manning did his best to bring the Broncos back and led the offense to two fourth-quarter touchdowns to cut the lead to one possession. Needing to get Manning one final drive, Denver’s worn-out defense yielded yards on the ground and allowed the Falcons to run out the clock.
Atlanta’s offense did enough damage with Tony Gonzalez, Roddy White and Michael Turner to keep Denver down by two scores for most of the game. The Broncos managed to limit Julio Jones and were getting periodic pressure up front, but it wasn't enough to rattle Matt Ryan into making mistakes.
Manning’s three interceptions were very uncharacteristic because they came on poor decisions and poor throws. Atlanta’s defense used constant motion to make it difficult for Manning to make pre-snap reads, and he wasn't able to make the necessary adjustments that would have given the Broncos a tactical advantage.
Notable was the fact that all three of Manning’s interceptions came on deep throws to his right, which is something that has popped up in the past and now merits further evaluation.
Once Manning did find a groove, he started looking for Demaryius Thomas, who is quickly becoming No. 18's favorite target. After a Week 1 performance that included 110 yards and a touchdown, Thomas added eight receptions for 78 yards and a touchdown in Week 2.
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Lost in Denver’s loss will be the performance of veteran running back Willis McGahee. On a night in which Manning struggled, McGahee kept the Broncos in it with 22 rushes for 113 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter that cut into the lead.
Also lost will be the performance of Denver’s run defense, which limited Atlanta’s running backs to 2.4 yards per carry and forced the Falcons to keep throwing despite a big lead. If not for the defense keeping the Falcons in check, the loss could have been much more lopsided than it was.
Denver’s defense did have trouble covering Gonzalez, and that’s something they will want to tighten up before facing elite tight ends like Antonio Gates, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham later this season.
Not lost was how rookie running back Ronnie Hillman was inactive for the second straight game. Instead the Broncos used Knowshon Moreno, who lost a fumble, added just two yards rushing on three carries and had one reception for 12 yards. If Hillman can’t crack the game-day roster in Week 3, Broncos fans should be concerned with his lack of development.
The Broncos will look to recover in Week 3 at home versus the 2-0 Houston Texans.