DENVER | The debut of Peyton Manning’s new mashup offense was a dud. Not so Denver’s dazzling defense, which came up huge Sunday in a 19-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Former Ravens safety Darian Stewart, who followed Gary Kubiak from Baltimore to Denver over the winter, snatched the ball from tight end Crockett Gillmore in the end zone with 28 seconds left to seal the win for the four-time defending AFC West champs.
Joe Flacco drove the Ravens to the Denver 16 in the final minute. One play before Stewart’s interception, cornerback Brady Roby got a hand in Steve Smith Sr.’s face and a would-be touchdown catch bounded away from the veteran receiver.
Neither offense found the end zone.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith’s 24-yard pick-6 was Baltimore’s only touchdown and Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib responded with a 51-yard interception return for a TD that put Denver ahead for good 16-13.
Talib stepped in front of Smith, snared Flacco’s pass and weaved his way through traffic to put Denver ahead heading into the fourth quarter, when they used an 11-minute drive to help seal it.
Manning, who failed to find the end zone in 11 preseason possessions, didn’t sniff the goal line in 10 full possessions Sunday. He has never looked this bad post-neck surgery, not even in the playoff loss against Indy eight months ago when he was hobbled by a torn quad muscle.
Bounced passes. Overthrows. Some of it was surely his O-line that included two first-time starters and a two-time Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis, who was making his Denver debut. Manning was flagged for a false start when he was trying to draw a defender offside in the first half.
He was 24 of 40 for 175 yards and a paltry 59.9 passer rating. His four sacks were his most since Oct. 20, 2013.
Flacco was 18 of 32 for 117 yards and two interceptions for a QB rating of 38.2.
The Broncos got the ball at their own 4 with 13:51 remaining and drove to the Ravens 15, where Brandon McManus kicked his fourth field goal, a 33-yarder with 2:55 left that made it 19-13.
The 17-play drive ate up 81 yards and almost 11 minutes.
The only points in the first half came through the uprights with McManus kicking three field goals and joining Greg Zuerlein as the only kickers in NFL history with multiple field goals of 56 yards or more in the same game McManus was good from 57, 56 and 43 yards, and Justin Tucker kicked a 52-yarder for Baltimore.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL