Denver Broncos strong safety Mike Adams reacts after breaking up a pass during Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Denver. The Broncos earned a 25-29 victory.
DENVER — For an uncomfortably long time Sunday, it was a matter of “if” for Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos, not “how many.”
Their supposedly lopsided matchup against the winless Jacksonville Jaguars turned into quite a tussle for much of a surreal afternoon. Not until Knowshon Moreno ran for his third touchdown did the Broncos have any sense of security.
Denver won 35-19 but fell well short of covering that record 27-point betting line in Las Vegas.
Manning went 28 for 42 for 295 yards in his least-impressive showing of the season. His two touchdown passes gave him 22 on the year, a record for an NFL quarterback through six games.
He also lost a pair of fumbles on slippery exchanges from center and threw his second interception of the season, which linebacker Paul Posluszny returned 59 yards for a touchdown to pull the Jaguars within 14-12 before the half.
At that point, it was clear this would be more than another stat-padding day for Manning and Co. That feeling was reinforced when Chad Henne led the Jaguars on an 80-yard touchdown drive against the banged-up Broncos (6-0) to make it 21-19 after Manning opened the third quarter with a TD drive of his own.
Justin Blackmon had 14 catches for 190 yards for Jacksonville, which fell to 0-6 but gave the Broncos a harder time on offense than any team they’ve faced this season.
In the second quarter, the Jaguars forced Denver’s first punt of October. They got in front of receivers’ routes, and when a Bronco did catch a pass, Jacksonville defenders wrapped up immediately.
The Jags gave up very few cheap yards, and were it not for a series of odd decisions and untimely mistakes, this one might have been even closer.
It began during Jacksonville’s first possession, when coach Gus Bradley called a fake punt the Broncos diagnosed perfectly, leaving them only 27 yards from their first score — a 3-yard pass from Manning to Julius Thomas. Denver’s second touchdown came after the Jaguars stopped Manning on third-and-long but had that nullified by a personal foul on defensive end Andre Branch.
There was a muffed snap on a field goal attempt, Bradley’s failed decision to go for 2 after Posluszny’s interception return, and a pass interference penalty that helped Denver on its opening drive of the third quarter. In all, Jacksonville did enough silly things to lose despite racking up 362 yards in offense.
Much of the debate coming into this one was centered on whether the Broncos would cover and when Manning would come out of the game.
Henne threw for 303 yards against Denver’s league-worst pass defense. The Broncos welcomed back Champ Bailey, who found himself on the island against Blackmon for much of the afternoon.
Despite their struggles, Denver ended up undefeated without linebacker Von Miller, whose six-game suspension officially ends Monday.
But the Broncos also lost right tackle Orlando Franklin to a knee injury in the third quarter — adding another question mark as they head to Indianapolis for Manning’s return to play his old team.
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