Peyton Manning gift-wrapped 14 points for the Washington Redskins to start the second half. Apparently, he just likes playing from behind.
Manning atoned for his third-quarter mistakes by leading his offense to 38 unanswered points as the Denver Broncos got back in the win column with a 45-21 Week 8 victory over the Redskins at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Starting with the ball after an even 7-7 first half, Manning wasted little time before adding in shades of his struggles last week. He fumbled the ball deep inside his own territory on the Broncos' opening drive to set up a Washington touchdown and gave another score to the visitors by throwing a pick-six to DeAngelo Hall.
In the span of three seconds of game time, the Redskins had taken a 21-7 lead with 11:34 remaining in the third quarter and scored 21 unanswered going back to the first half. With Manning's too-little-too-late comeback attempt last week fresh in the Denver crowd's minds, it looked like the four-time NFL MVP had set himself up again for failure.
That pick would be the last time anyone doubted Manning.
He subsequently led the Broncos right up the field on an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. Montee Ball capped off the drive from four yards out, the second-round pick's first professional score. With Robert Griffin III and the Redskins offense scuffling, the Broncos didn't have to wait long for their next scoring drive.
Converting on a gutsy 4th-and-1 call from John Fox—the second time Denver had gone for it on fourth down in the second half—Manning hit Joel Dreessen on the right sideline from one yard out to tie the game at the 15-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
Thirty-one seconds later, Manning was hitting Knowshon Moreno on a 35-yard screen pass to put the Broncos ahead for good.
Moreno's touchdown came after a lightning-quick three-and-out from Griffin, who suffered through one of his worst games as a pro. With the Denver pass rush barreling down on him to the tune of 18 quarterback hits and three sacks, Griffin's passes were either rushed and inaccurate or for minuscule gains.
The second-year quarterback left the game in the fourth quarter on a huge hit from Terrance Knighton on an interception. Griffin was attended to on the on the field and then on the sidelines. Dr. James Andrews, the renowned orthopedic surgeon who also serves as the Redskins' team doctor, paid specific attention to his left knee.
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported the team held him out as a precaution for the remainder of the game:
Griffin had only 132 yards through the air and one touchdown—a seven-yard score to Leonard Hankerson with 25 seconds to go in the first half that tied the score at 7-7. A week after a return to his 2012 form against the Chicago Bears, Griffin rushed for seven yards on five carries and turned the ball over three times.
According to the Redskins' Twitter account, head coach Mike Shanahan admitted it's tough to beat teams like Denver with mistakes and missed opportunities:
Griffin's struggles helped set up Manning and the Broncos to ice the game. A strip sack of Griffin by Von Miller set up Matt Prater's 19-yard field goal to make it 31-21, and Manning needed only two plays to find Demaryius Thomas from 35 yards out following Griffin's first interception to put Denver up 17 with 6:43 remaining.
Griffin has now thrown six interceptions through the first seven games of 2013 after only five during his rookie campaign. The Redskins as a team eclipsed their 2012 turnover total (14) when Griffin's replacement, Kirk Cousins, threw his second interception in nine pass attempts. The first went to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who returned the ball 75 yards to finalize the score.
Although Denver's massive fourth quarter was impressive, the Broncos actually could have scored more points. Manning himself threw two fourth-quarter picks en route to finishing with 354 yards and four touchdowns against three interceptions. With 26 touchdowns at the season's midpoint, Manning is on pace to shatter Tom Brady's record of 50 touchdown passes in a season.
The Broncos, who have a week off, are still looking up at the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC West despite being 7-1. Andy Reid's squad pulled off their second straight close win, moving to 8-0 with a 23-17 defeat of the Cleveland Browns.
The Redskins, meanwhile, are left to pick up the pieces after a shockingly bad second half. They could have been tied with the Dallas Cowboys in the loss column in the NFC East, but instead have to face numerous questions about their defensive acumen and their quarterback's health going forward.
Robert Griffin III (QB, Washington Redskins): D
Sunday was a perfect example of why the Redskins were so hesitant to use Griffin on a ton of designed runs early in the season. There's no question Washington's offense is more effective when Griffin is using the read-option to not only set up the pass, but to scamper himself.
But Denver hit him seven times in the first half, a few more times in the final two quarters and even knocked him down once or twice after the play ended. The best thing one could say about Griffin's performance was that Roy Helu recovered his fumble on a 3rd-and-1 play in the first quarter, thus avoiding a fourth mistake.
It was about as dreadful as Griffin has ever been. Even when the Redskins were reeling early in the season, you could see him struggling to get back into form. Here, there weren't any positive signs whatsoever.
Alfred Morris (RB, Washington Redskins): B+
Don't look now, but Mike Shanahan's disdain for fantasy football owners is showing again. A week after giving three goal-line carries to Roy Helu Jr. and sending Morris owners into deep depression, the Redskins coach pulled a fast one on those who hoped Helu would be a go-to back on the goal line moving forward.
The result was yet another fine performance for Morris, this time coming against the NFL's top-ranked run defense. He showed patience running to the outside on stretch plays and took advantage of strong zone-reads from Griffin en route to almost eclipsing 100 yards for the second time this season.
With the Redskins playing from behind for much of the early part of the season, Morris was mostly quiet after a 1,600-yard rookie season. But he's still averaging greater than five yards per carry, will go over 1,000 yards again barring injury and has arguably been the most consistently stellar Redskin on offense—Griffin included.
Peyton Manning (QB, Denver Broncos): B
Manning's first half was filled with opportunities that seemingly served as a prelude to an excellent final 30 minutes. The Broncos moved the ball well, with Manning completing 12 of 15 passes for 131 yards. They didn't have a single three-and-out, and only ill-timed incompletions and mistakes were at fault for Denver having just seven points at the half.
And then, suddenly, things looked like they were falling apart in the third quarter. It's hard to fault Manning for his fumble or Hall's pick-six. The pressure on the fumble came from behind, and Hall's interception only came after Demaryius Thomas fell to the turf.
With those turnovers accounting for 14 straight Washington points, Manning was left to scramble for the second straight game. This time went far better than it did in Indianapolis.
Wes Welker (WR, Denver Broncos): B+
With Julius Thomas consigned to the sideline with ankle issues in the second half, Welker was due to become Manning's top underneath option. The 32-year-old wideout responded well, catching six passes for 81 yards and a touchdown—a performance good enough to likely make Tom Brady even more frustrated his former top target is catching balls from Manning.
Outside of a nondescript Week 2 performance, Welker has showed no signs of age. He's caught at least five balls in seven of Denver's eight games and has found the end zone in seven different contests as well.
With Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas clearing space in the middle of the field, Welker found success up the seam and on the sidelines on Sunday. The Redskins were also forced into their nickel package for much of the game, mitigating the effect of their talented linebacking corps.
Welker's game is all about the little things. He did them all well this week.
The Redskins and Broncos both play their next game against the San Diego Chargers. Washington hosts Philip Rivers and Co. next Sunday before Denver travels to San Diego in Week 10. The Chargers (4-3) are off this week and are currently in third place in the AFC West.
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