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Broncos win big, get closer to 'complete' game

There were plenty of places for improvement, but the Denver Broncos' 41-20 victory over the Arizona Cardinals was a big step in the right direction.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday's thrashing of the previously undefeated Arizona Cardinals was just about everything a Broncos fan could have wanted - huge plays, lots of scores, impressive pass rushing, exciting special teams...

No it wasn't a complete game, no our offense wasn't balanced in the run and pass, and no our defense didn't completely unravel the opponent.

But what a fun victory - no fourth-quarter comeback required and a gazillion records to boot.

It's obviously not that perfect four-quarter game. But it was definitely a good finish today. I thought that was important.   -Peyton Manning, quarterback

"It's obviously not that perfect four-quarter game," Peyton Manning said after the decisive 41-20 win over the Cardinals. "We've got to try to avoid those three-and-outs and those mistakes in the second and third quarters. But it was definitely a good finish today. I thought that was important."

For the first game this season, the Broncos weren't trying to pull out a win at the end of the game - something that ended favorably in two of the three previous games. But everyone on the offense knows there is still work to be done.

"I think we continue to struggle," said tight end Julius Thomas. "We were able to put up a lot of points today, but we had so many drives where we didn't execute. So many plays where we got to do a better job of being assignment sound."

Thomas could easily be referring to his own mistake to start the third quarter that called back a 77-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas.

"By no means will we celebrate in meetings tomorrow. It's probably going to be tough to have your eyes open to watch some of those plays, but we're going to continue to work," Thomas added. "I think what you saw today is what happens when a lot of explosive athletes get the opportunity to get the ball in their hands. We have those kinds of guys."

Demaryius dominates again

Explosive is a good description of yesterday's matchup, and one of the keys to that was the return of a dominating Demaryius Thomas. Just ask Arizona's Antonio Cromartie who was matched up against the wide receiver all day.

"He got the best of me today, and that's all I can really say," the cornerback said. "When you give up 238-damn yards to any damn receiver, that's not your best day. No matter how you look at it, it's not my best day, and it's time to get back into it, regroup and get going."

Thomas, who by his own admission struggled in the Broncos' first three games, said it wasn't a matter of being focused but rather not letting a few drops get to his head. He admitted to putting more pressure on himself while playing slot for the absent Wes Welker in the first three games.

My confidence has never failed. I know I am able to go out and make big plays and able to have great games. It was just getting back and concentrating.   -Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver

"My confidence has never failed. I know I am able to go out and make big plays and able to have great games. It was just getting back and concentrating and not letting one play bother me," DT said, adding that he does feel pressure from himself if he lets down Manning. But if there is a lesson to learn from his quarterback, it would be moving on from mistakes. "Just saying, ‘Forget it.' ...You leave it alone and just go to the next one."

Thomas moved on in a big way Sunday, amassing 226 receiving yards and scoring two touchdowns, including an 86-yarder. That performance also put him in some very good company by breaking the franchise record of Hall-of-Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe for most receiving yards in a game.

"Demaryius is a guy that's worked very hard, was voted captain, tremendous young player, young talent," Coach John Fox said after the game. "People have talked about, ‘this slump, that slump,' but he answered the bell today and had a big day - very proud of his performance."

Manning had been asked if he challenged Thomas to have a big game, and Manning noted that he had nothing to do with it.

"Demaryius challenged himself during the bye week. He knew he wasn't playing up to his capabilities," Manning said. "I think he just had a good look in his eye all week and he got back to his fundamentals and practiced well and played well."

Whatever the motivation, it was as nice for the fans as for Manning and his offense to have the receiver back in exceptional form.

And the defense really appreciated the more effective offense as well.

"It was an explosion," said DeMarcus Ware. "It's just awesome to have an offense like that, a powerhouse that can score points."

Manning gets No. 500, plus a few more

Fueling that powerhouse was a quarterback who put up ridiculous numbers - four touchdowns via a career-high 479 passing yards.

But it was hitting the 500th touchdown milestone early in the game that garnered the most attention. And rightfully so.

"Any touchdowns that I've thrown usually resulted in helping our team try to win the game or win the game," Manning said about hitting the 500 mark. "So I think about it that way - that it helped the team."

But his team was quick to give him the credit.

Julius Thomas, who caught the 500th TD pass on an out route with 4:48 left in the first quarter, emphasized it is Peyton's achievement.

"That's Peyton's moment. For me it's just a great thing for me to continue to find ways to help my team," Thomas said. "Happy that P trusts me to throw the ball to me down there in that red zone. I have a way to go before I'm setting records."

Emmanuel Sanders, who quietly had another fantastic 100+-yard receiving day, noted Manning's focus despite the record.

"Peyton really didn't have a reaction. He went right back to the sideline, got into the playbook in terms of looking what we can do to improve to continuously score points," Sanders said. "Of course, we all know that it's a huge accomplishment, something that he wanted, and I'm just happy that he got it."

Despite losing to the Broncos because of Manning, Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians was happy for the guy he had coached as a rookie QB in Indianapolis.

"My hat's off to Peyton," Arians said. "He played a great game."

Though Manning joked that the receiver who asked him "if they wore leather helmets" when Manning first started playing will not earn anyone fantasy points next week, the quarterback was his usual humble self about the milestone.

"Football is the ultimate team game, so I guess one man kind of has to accept it on behalf of coaches and teammates," Manning said. "I can't tell you how grateful I am for their help and support."

While Manning was the most prominent of the record breakers yesterday, he was by no means the only Broncos player to do so. In addition to DT's new franchise record for most yards in a game, Welker added a very impressive record to his resume - 850 receptions, the most catches by an undrafted player in the NFL. Even better is that Welker broke the record previously held by another Bronco - Ring of Fame wide receiver Rod Smith.

"The way I look at it is any time you're in company with Rod Smith, you know you're doing something right," Welker said. "I remember growing up watching him and being a big fan of his. I think it's a tribute to him of really being able to get this milestone."

Manning added that the teams who passed up on Welker when he entered the league should "send him an apology letter," and DT noted it's unfathomable Welker wasn't drafted.

"That man can play some ball," Thomas said.

Defense just getting started

Another man who can play some ball - and also hit an important milestone - was Terrance Knighton. Though he didn't catch TD No. 500 as he had hoped, Knighton registered his 300th tackle, an impressive stat even if highly unnoticed.

But it certainly points to an effective defense that is continuing to click on all cylinders.

"I thought those guys were awesome today," Manning said. "I thought the defense did a great job holding them to zero points after the interception that I threw. I just really appreciate their efforts."

Manning has apparently been taking notes too because the five-time MVP thought he'd try a tackle after throwing his second interception on the day. He saved a pick six on that play, but the Cardinals offense scored quickly the very first play of the drive following.

"I don't know, don't give me a full tackle for that. Give me like a half (tackle). Barely grazed his leg," Manning said, laughing. "Thinking about how could we have avoided that, I'm not sure. I probably would have thrown it every time. [Calais Campbell] just fell off and made the play. So whatever, you're trying to get him down and you just feel so disappointed you put your defense in that position."

But the defense remained tough much of the game, holding the Cardinals 37 yards rushing, 199 yards passing and 3-of-19 on third-down conversions. The eight dropped passes from Cardinals' receivers was a nice boost for the Broncos defense, but Von Miller and Demarcus Ware were bringing pressure all day long. Miller logged 1.5 sacks, sharing one with Malik Jackson, while Ware added another.

"It feels good to do my job and take care of business and do what I'm supposed to do," Miller said. "It feels good to make plays for my teammates. If I can get my job done, then everybody's job on the defense is a whole lot easier."

Having Danny Trevathan back in the defensive lineup was a big boost - both physically and mentally - for the team. Trevathan had six tackles in his first game back since suffering an injury in training camp.

"I was just trying to play. I was a little rusty but I got in the groove of things and my defense helped me," Trevathan said. "It's great to have a great group of guys behind you so you go out there and fly, not worried about making mistakes too much."

And those guys were really happy to have him too.

"It was great," Miller said of having Trevathan on the field for a game. "Just his leadership at times when you really needed it, the stuff that he says, it is perfect timing for everything. I really appreciate having Danny back."

Running game gaining some traction

One of the final pieces of the Broncos full-game puzzle is the running game. Though still not anywhere near dominant, the run game did show spurts of energy that bode well moving forward.

I thought Ronnie had a really good burst today. I thought Juwan had a good touchdown run and made a really good block on the touchdown to Julius. That was good to see from a rookie.    -Peyton Manning, quarterback

"I thought Ronnie [Hillman] just had a really good burst today," Manning said, adding that his prayers are with starter Montee Ball who went down with an injury. "Just a couple of those runs, as you've seen before, when he has the ball in his hands, he can make that one cut and burst for that 12-, 15-yard gain. It's just a matter of just Ronnie being consistent and being consistent in practice."

Manning was also impressed with rookie Juwan Thompson, if as much for his production as for his composure in a game situation.

"I thought he had a good touchdown run. I thought he made a really good block on the touchdown to Julius," Manning said. "They were kind of in a blitz, and we had a little audible there, and Juwan wasn't wide-eyed or anything. That was good to see from a rookie."

The Broncos are still working toward a more balanced offense because they understand it is necessary to win games - even if not every game.

"If you just do one thing the entire game, I still think that's a tough way to play football-doesn't mean you can't win a game like that, but I think it's tough," Manning said, adding that he thought the running game improved as the game went on and that there were better holes as the game progressed. "So we're going to try to be balanced. At the same time, we're going to go with what's working in that particular game, and we're going to still keep working to improve the run game."

And as Fox pointed out, there are still three quarters of the season to go and Broncos are still improving.

"This is game four; we're a work in progress," he said. "You have different matchups, you have different challenges. Today we were able to execute what we had to win the football game."