ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Broncos began the season with a home win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but then lost two straight to teams that would advance to at least the Divisional Round of the playoffs, the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans. The club finished the first quarter of the season with an emphatic 37-6 rout of the Oakland Raiders.
Broncos 31, Raiders 19
GAME RECAP: In a game that saw four lead changes, the Broncos clicked at the right time to get past the Pittsburgh Steelers in a rematch of the 2011 AFC Wild Card Round.
Denver closed the game with 17 straight fourth-quarter points to secure a 31-19 home victory.
The play of the game came with Pittsburgh down by six late in the fourth quarter, looking to drive the length of the field for a lead-capturing touchdown. Cornerback Tracy Porter would have none of it.
In his first game as a Bronco, Porter jumped in front of a Ben Roethlisberger pass and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. With the pick-six, Denver extended its lead to 31-19 inside the two-minute mark, putting the season-opening win on ice.
TURNING POINT: The Steelers began the second half with a slow, methodical drive that absorbed most of the third-quarter clock. A touchdown to cap it off would have put Pittsburgh up by 10 with momentum and confidence on offense. Instead, the Denver defense got a stop when it needed it most, thanks to a pair of quarterback pressures by defensive end Elvis Dumervil that forced incompletions. After the field goal, the Broncos outscored the Steelers 24-6.
KEY STATISTIC: In his first game since the 2010 season, Manning proved he was still one of the game's elite passers. He finished with a quarterback rating of 129.2 on 19-of-26 passing for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
QUOTABLE: "It felt good to get the win. I'm still feeling my way out; I still have some limitations; I think this team is still forming its identity and as your feeling yourself out, feeling the team out, when you can get a win in that process, that's a nice thing. Like I said: we've got an extremely tough schedule, going on the road (next week) to Atlanta, but it'll be nice to go in there 1-0 as opposed to 0-1. It's going to be a serious test next Monday."*
- Quarterback Peyton Manning*
Falcons 27, Broncos 21
GAME RECAP:** The Broncos threw interceptions on their first three possessions of the game. That put them in an early 20-0 hole that proved too deep for a furious late-game rally.
Denver scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns, each on runs by Willis McGahee, to bring the score to 27-21. But the Falcons offense didn't allow the Broncos to regain possession with a chance to take the lead, as it ran out the remaining 3:25 of the clock to secure a victory at the Georgia Dome.
TURNING POINT: On third-and-5 before the two-minute warning, the Broncos could have stopped the Falcons to get the ball back with a chance to score a touchdown to take the lead. Instead, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan hit wideout Julio Jones for a pickup of 6, enabling Atlanta to take a knee to drain the rest of the clock.
KEY STATISTIC: A triad of first-quarter interceptions helped the Falcons score the first 20 points of the game, a deficit that the Broncos couldn't overcome.
QUOTABLE: "Through all the adversity, you could still see the confidence in everybody. Everybody was still fighting, and that says a lot."*
- Cornerback Champ Bailey*
WEEK 3 Texans 31, Broncos 25
GAME RECAP: The Broncos scored the first five points of the game with a safety and a field goal, but were held in check for the next three quarters as Houston built a 20-point fourth-quarter lead. It was the second straight week Denver faced a 20-point deficit and rallied back to fall short by six points.
This time, Denver's touchdowns in the fourth quarter were of the passing variety, one to Brandon Stokley and one to Joel Dreessen. But the Texans escaped Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a 31-25 victory.
TURNING POINT: The Texans expanded their lead to 20 late in the third quarter by covering 72 yards on just five plays, capping off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Owen Daniels. It proved to be the back-breaker as Denver scored 14 points in the final period but couldn't get the third touchdown to finish the comeback.
KEY STAT: The Texans out-rushed the Broncos 152-59, enabling Houston to control the ball and the clock with a lead, while keeping the home crowd from making an impact on the game.
QUOTABLE: "We had close games and finished strong with both of them, but if we want to be a great team, we have to be that team to keep it close all the way through and score points when you get in the red zone, don't allow explosive plays and win ballgames. I think obviously we played two great teams and you have to give them a lot of credit, but we want to be right there with them."*
- Wide receiver Eric Decker*
Broncos 37, Raiders 6
GAME RECAP: Another slow first half sent the Broncos into halftime with a 10-6 lead at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
A stellar performance by the defense to shut out the Raiders in the final 30 minutes went hand-in-hand with an offensive explosion, which led to a 37-6 rivalry rout.
Quarterback Peyton Manning was nearly perfect on the day, completing 30-of-38 passes for 338 yards and three touchdowns -- a passer rating of 130.0. Running back Willis McGahee complemented the passing attack with 112 yards rushing and a touchdown on 19 carries.
Defensively, the Broncos hit quarterback Carson Palmer eight times and sacked him three, while never allowing the Raiders running game to find any breathing room.
TURNING POINT: Coming out of the second half with just a four-point lead, the Denver defense forced four straight three-and-outs in the third quarter. The offense did its job as well, scoring touchdowns on the first three of those punts.
KEY STAT: The Raiders' workhorse, Darren McFadden, was held to just 34 yards on 13 carries in the game.
QUOTABLE: "It was nothing but a good, old-fashioned butt-whooping."*
- Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer*