Although it hasn't come without doubts, the Denver Broncos' transformation is off to a positive start.
After Peyton Manning's latest performance raised more question marks, the Broncos look to continue their dominance of AFC West teams in Thursday night's showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
With Manning failing to throw a touchdown pass and averaging a meager 4.4 yards per attempt, Denver relied on defense and the kicking game to open the Gary Kubiak era with a hard-earned 19-13 home win over Baltimore. Brandon McManus made four field goals - two from beyond 55 yards - and the Broncos limited the Ravens to 173 yards while coming up with two huge second-half interceptions of Joe Flacco.
Aqib Talib returned the first 51 yards for a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter and Darian Stewart sealed the win with an interception at the goal line with 28 seconds left.
Still, the postgame focus was on Manning, whose 175 passing yards marked the third time in six games he was held to fewer than 200. The five-time NFL MVP hasn't engineered a touchdown in 21 drives counting the preseason.
"Everybody's looking for these summaries of our offense and our team after Week 1. I just don't think you're able to do that," Manning said. "We're a work in progress."
Manning passed for 179 yards at Kansas City on Nov. 30, but threw two touchdowns and the Broncos rushed for 214 yards in a 29-16 victory that extended their series winning streak to six. Denver, winner of four straight at Arrowhead, is 17-1 against division opponents since Manning's arrival in 2012.
C.J. Anderson ran for a career-high 168 yards that day but mustered 29 on 12 carries against Baltimore while hampered by ankle and toe injuries. He's expected to play Thursday, as is Demaryius Thomas after the standout wide receiver briefly exited the opener with a sore hand.
Stewart (groin) and Omar Bolden (foot) sat out Monday's practice, though fellow safety T.J. Ward returns after being suspended for Week 1.
''We're beat up,'' Kubiak said. ''That was a physical game (Sunday).''
The Chiefs were held to 151 yards at Kansas City last year and finished 25th in total offense in 2014. The unit appeared improved in the opener, however, as Alex Smith threw three first-half touchdown passes and the Chiefs were penalized just twice in a 27-20 victory at Houston.
Travis Kelce had two touchdown catches and amassed 106 yards on six catches, while offseason addition Jeremy Maclin added five receptions for 52 yards to support 103 yards from scrimmage from running back Jamaal Charles.
"We're more balanced," said Smith, who was 22 for 33 for 243 yards. "I think we have a lot of weapons, a lot of guys who can do multiple things so I think that presents a lot of different problems for defenses."
Charles wasn't much of a factor against the Broncos last season, missing most of Denver's 24-17 home win that Sept. 14 with a sprained ankle and producing 35 yards on 10 rushes in the most recent meeting.
Of perhaps greater concern for Denver is a Kansas City defense that recorded five sacks in Week 1. Manning was sacked four times by the Ravens - his highest total since his memorable return to Indianapolis on Oct. 20, 2013 - while operating behind a line that's replaced four starters from last season.
Allen Bailey had two sacks against the Texans and Justin Houston, the NFL leader with 22 last season, has at least one in seven straight games.
The Chiefs enter Thursday with a small controversy of their own amid allegations that right tackle and 2013 No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher asked out of the opener to avoid a matchup with Texans All-Pro end J.J. Watt. Fisher, who was dealing with a high ankle sprain and is questionable for the game, was active but replaced by Jah Reid.
Coach Andy Reid vehemently denied the accusations, telling reporters Monday is was his decision to sit Fisher out.
''I know things are out there. That's ridiculous,'' Reid said. ''I was the one that watched him practice. I thought if I put him out there, I'd put him in a terrible situation.''