Broncos again show it's not how you start, it's how you finish

Monday September 16th, 2013

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's a mere two weeks into the NFL's regular season, but this much we've already learned about these Denver Broncos: If you don't get to them early, you don't get to them, period.

Slow starters for the second game in a row on Sunday, the Broncos again blew away a recent Super Bowl champion with a second-half scoring outburst, in the process proving they have a lot of ways to beat you. Offense, defense and special teams, they all contributed mightily in Denver's 41-23 conquest of the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

Anyone else sensing a pattern here? Denver beat the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens 49-27 in Week 1, despite going scoreless in the first quarter, and trailing slightly (17-14) at halftime. In Week 2, on the road this time, the Broncos cruised again, dispatching the 2011 champion Giants despite another scoreless first quarter, and a slim 10-9 advantage at the half.

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I'll save you time and do the math: In the first two quarters, Denver has been outscored 26-24. But after the halftime break so far in 2013, it's Broncos 66, and the other guys 24. After the 10-0 first-quarter deficit, it's a 90-40 scoring margin in favor of John Fox's team. The muscle-flexing in the game's final 30 minutes is probably a trend they could get used to, especially since they just became the fourth team since the merger to tally at least 90 points in their first two games, and they topped 40 points in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history since September 1976.

Well, there is Peyton the Perfectionist to contend with, and he's never going to be completely satisfied, even if Denver is averaging a 20-point winning margin per game so far and he just became the first quarterback in league history to throw nine touchdowns without an interception in the opening two games of a season.

"We need to come out and do a better job in the first half and not wait 'til the second half two weeks in a row,'' said Manning, who followed his seven-touchdown-pass explosion against Baltimore with a more routine 307-yard, two-touchdown day versus the Giants in Manning Bowl III. "I thought we made good second-half adjustments. Two weeks in a row we've come out in the second half and really sort of changed the tempo of the game. We would like to fix it in the first half a little bit.''

The second-half adjustments Manning cited? Denver went to more two-tight end sets, with second tight end Virgil Green entering and third receiver Wes Welker exiting. That helped the Broncos run the ball more authoritatively, which in turn opened up the passing game in the second half.

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The Broncos ran just 11 times for 34 yards (3.1) in the first half, but churned out 75 yards on 18 rushes in the second half (4.2), with Knowshon Moreno leading the way with a game-high 93 yards on 13 carries, including twin touchdowns of 20 and 25 yards. Moreno's gaudy 7.2-yard average rush helped wear down a Giants defense that was geared to stop the elder Manning, with Denver converting 8-of-15 third downs (53 percent) and displaying impressive offensive balance.

"It was a good change for us,'' Manning said of the two-tight end sets. "We ran the ball better out of that personnel grouping for whatever reason. I thought the execution was better. It gave us a little more rhythm. That helped our running game and then we were able to get a couple big plays in the passing game. When you go to three wides after that, it can keep [the defense] a little bit more off balance.''

Balance could have been the Broncos' byword on this day. Manning threw for those two touchdowns on 30-of-43 passing; Moreno rushed for that pair of scores; the Denver defense picked off four passes for the first time since 2001 (by four different Broncos defensive backs, no less); punt returner extraordinaire Trindon Holliday added a killer 81-yard punt return touchdown in the fourth quarter; and the Broncos held the mistake-prone Giants to three Josh Brown field goals in the first half, keeping the game close.

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If there's a more well-rounded team in the NFL than Denver in mid-September, I'm unaware of it. Other than the slow starts, the Broncos are firing on all cylinders when it matters most, and that bodes very ominously for the rest of the AFC.

"You're not well-rounded until you win it all,'' said Broncos safety Rahim Moore, who had one of Denver's four interceptions, picking off Eli Manning in the end zone midway through the fourth quarter. "If you haven't won anything, you're not well-rounded. We've only won two games this season. There's more to come.

"But that's a good football team we just played. We out-executed them today. We came ready. Both sides of the ball played great. Whenever you come out with a W, you've done something right. It's not how you start, it's how you finish.''

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The Broncos are getting pretty good at this finishing stuff, and perhaps unsurprisingly, Peyton Manning is more than happy to be done with this well-hyped Manning Bowl series. He's 3-0 when facing his kid brother, beating him in 2006, '10 and now '13, and unless an almost too-good-to-be-true Super Bowl pairing somehow materializes, the pair may never meet again in a meaningful football game. Which is no doubt fine with the entire Manning family.

"I think both of us are glad when it's over with, it's a relief,'' said Peyton, who on Sunday became just the third NFL quarterback to top the 60,000-yard career plateau (60,056), joining Brett Favre (71,838) and Dan Marino (61,361). "Postseason is one thing, but I don't believe I'll make it to the next regular-season game [which wouldn't be for another four years, or 2017], so I think this will be the end of it.

"It's a strange feeling. It's not like beating another team. It's not probably quite as enjoyable, as it would be if you were beating someone else.''

It's just bad luck for Eli that he and his Giants ran into the Broncos' early season buzzsaw. The Broncos made New York look bad, and Eli now has thrown seven interceptions in his first two games (four against Denver, three last week in a road loss to Dallas). New York is off to its first 0-2 start since it's Super Bowl season of 2007, and the sloppy turnover-fest is killing the Giants' chances. Two of Manning's four picks were in the end zone, courtesy of Moore and Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

"Eli would be the first to say that he's not the way we want him to be,'' New York head coach Tom Coughlin said. "Somehow, some way, we've got to stop the interceptions.''

Coughlin talked about his team hanging in there, and how they've dug out of an 0-2 hole before, with great results. But while the Giants look for answers, it's the Broncos who seemingly have them, and at almost every segment of the depth chart. It's all working together fairly seamlessly so far in 2013, and if this keeps up, it's not far-fetched to imagine the Broncos making a return trip to this stadium later this season. For Super Bowl 48 in early February.

Hey, maybe it really is not how you start but how you finish in Denver this season. As in they're possibly destined for the big confetti shower. Perhaps that's really the pattern that's being established early on this year.

"We're 2-0, and that's OK, it's good, but we're hungry,'' Moore said. "We've got a lot of work to do.''

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