For 28 minutes, it was looking like a bad game from the Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning.
You could even say they stunk.
But Manning returned to Manning form, hitting Emmanuel Sanders for two touchdowns late in the second half to give the Broncos a 17-7 lead at halftime. The Broncos' second-teamers didn't fare quite as well, losing that 10-point lead to a field goal and touchdown drive and costing the Broncos the game, 18-17.
First team offense
A host of Broncos who were questionable got the start, including Montee Ball, who touched the ball on the game's first five consecutive plays and had eight touches total in the drive, earning at least two first downs. Wide receivers Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders returned to the starting lineup as well, with Sanders making his first catch as a Denver Bronco. A sack on Manning slowed the offense's first drive down, which ultimately stalled in the red zone. The Broncos settled for a field goal.
On the sack, Vasquez peeled off to block a blitzing Brooks Reed on a stunt, leaving Chris Clark 1-on-1 w/ Ricardo Matthews. Clark beaten.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) August 24, 2014
After the first drive, it was Ronnie Hillman replacing Ball, and Manning looked to Sanders for one of the most impressive passes of the first team's night. Sanders delivered, showing some tantalizing speed. More pressure from the right side (Clark) forced Manning to an incomplete then a quick short pass, and the Broncos were forced to punt. On the next drive, Manning was intercepted by Houston's A.J. Bouye - just a bad decision by Manning - adding to what looked like a shaky night by the starting offense.
It wouldn't last long.
Manning went back to work with less than two minutes to play in the half, determined to right the offense's ship. And right it he did: starting with a ridiculous 67-yard bomb to Emmanuel Sanders.
Manning was seen studying photos on the sideline before this series, and after that Bouye pick, you could tell he feeling aggressive. He saw the single high safety look he wanted and knew, with a good pocket, that Sanders could dart between the coverage.
The next touchdown was just impressive given the short time of it all. A play or two after Welker was knocked out of the game with concussion symptoms, Manning attacked the Texans secondary for a diving Sanders 29-yard touchdown.
All the stinking from the first 28 minutes was wiped clean.
Asked about the quiet first half, Coach John Fox said, "Did you watch those last couple of minutes? I don't think there was anything quiet about that."
First team defense
Speaking of big returns... Von Miller anybody? Miller's first game action since tearing his ACL near the end of last season saw him bat down one pass. The Texans came out slinging short passes, targeting Andre Johnson early and often. The rookie Bradkey Roby was seen in coverage against Johnson, and the first attempt to Johnson was incomplete thanks to Roby's tight coverage (he may have even gotten a hand on it). The Broncos were able to pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick and stay stout against the run, forcing a punt on Houston's first drive.
Lerentee McCray came in for Miller on the second Texans series (good choice Broncos), and Denver is still able to force a three and out. A missed opportunity between Fitzpatrick and Johnson on 2nd down leads to a DeMarcus Ware pressure on 3rd, where the pass rusher stunted inside to blow by two Texans blockers nearly untouched. That guys' 32 years old? I have some sprints to run.
DeMarcus Ware's ability to change direction and instantly hit full speed is magnificent. This guy will eat up QBs for the #Broncos.— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) August 24, 2014
On their third drive, though, a lack of pressure and a few good throws from Fitzpatrick gives the Texans a productive drive that ends in a Ben Grimes touchdown. It felt like the Texans had ten plays in the red zone here; the Broncos just could not get off the field, despite this very impressive hit from Bradley Roby to force a fourth down (that the Texans would subsequently convert).
Second team offense
A wild night for Brock Osweiler. A rollout pick interception - a throw he had no business throwing - prefaced an impressive audible that resulted in 17 yards to Cody Latimer followed by a wild read option run. A Kapri Bibbs facemask penalty would have been enough to knock them off their momentum, but Brock kept the offense going, connection on 3rd and 6 to keep the chains moving. But he didn't have enough in him to overcome a holding penalty and a big sack. On 3rd and 28, the Broncos pick up 19, and Mitch Ewald failed to connect from 36 yards out.
Brock was faced with heavy pressure all night, particularly on the side of left tackle Paul Cornick, who struggled more than once. With one minute to play and down by one, Osweiler tried to put together a scoring drive, but three straight passes went in and out of the hands of his receivers.
Osweiler just didn't get any help Saturday night.
Second and third team defense
The Broncos defense dominated against Case Keenum, but the Texans had more success when rookie Tom Savage entered the game, converting one fourth down on a touchdown drive to give Houston a late lead.
Quanterus Smith with the sack, but the entire pocket was collapsed. Marvin Austin really pushed that Guard back.— Mike G (@Bronco_Mike251) August 24, 2014
A week after the Broncos made a goal line stand to preserve a shutout, they were tasked with keeping a win as the Texans went for two, down 16-17. However, Savage was able to hit Travis Labhart to convert.
Uuuuggggghhhhhh. Just ugly, ugly work from Matt Prater, Mitch Ewald, and Britton Colquitt. The Broncos had two missed field goals (one of those would have been nice, losing by one, don'tcha think?), while Colquitt muffed a first half punt when the offense was struggling. Even Prater's one field goal that went in was an odd knuckleball that barely soared through. It's been a rough preseason overall for Prater, and Ewald hasn't pushed him. It's a point of concern for me heading into the season, but I'm hoping it's just preseason rust and, well, preseason apathy from Prater.
But still, overall a lot to like from this game. Manning to Sanders is electrifying, and that Mile High Salute from E.S. was the icing on the cake.
Were you happy with the game overall or nah? Let us know your thoughts on the game in the comments!