ATLANTA -- A furious fourth-quarter rally gave the Broncos a chance, but in the end four first-half turnovers were too much to overcome.
The Atlanta Falcons defeated Denver 27-21 in the Georgia Dome on Monday Night Football, dropping Denver's record to 1-1 on the season.
"Anytime you come on the road and throw three interceptions in the first quarter, it really puts the team in a hole," said quarterback Peyton Manning, who recovered from his three early turnovers to throw for 241 yards and a touchdown. "It put the defense in a hole and gave Atlanta some great field position that they took advantage of."
Each of Denver's first three drives ended the same way -- with an interception. Manning was picked by safety William Moore, safety Thomas DeCoud and cornerback Robert McClain, which set up the Falcons at the Denver 1-yard line, the Denver 43-yard line and the Atlanta 47-yard line, respectively.
But the Broncos defense did its part. After the initial interception, the unit forced a third-and-goal situation before Atlanta running back Michael Turner leaped over the line for a 1-yard touchdown to give the Falcons a 7-0 lead.
Following the second interception, Atlanta had to settle for a 37-yard Matt Bryant field goal, and after the third pick, the Denver defense forced a three-and-out thanks to a tipped, third-down pass by safety Mike Adams.
Two drives later, the Broncos committed another turnover -- this one a fumble by running back Knowshon Moreno that was recovered by the Falcons -- but again the defense held strong and forced a field goal. Cornerback Champ Bailey made the key, drive-halting tackle on third-and-2 at the Denver 24-yard line.
So even after four turnovers, the Broncos were down just 13-0.
"Through all the adversity, you could still see the confidence in everybody," Bailey said. "Everybody was still fighting."
A three-and-out by the Broncos offense gave Atlanta another chance to score, and quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense took advantage, driving 73 yards down the field and capping the effort with a 1-yard touchdown catch by tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Trailing 20-0 late in the second quarter, the Broncos strung together a 13-play, 80-yard drive to jump right back into the game.
With 14 seconds remaining in the first half, facing a third-and-goal from the 17-yard line, Manning fired to Demaryius Thomas in the corner of the end zone, and the third-year receiver hauled in the touchdown, just managing to get both feet in bounds for the score.
"The whole time I was thinking, 'We still have a chance, we just have to stop turning the ball over,'" Thomas said. "When I got the touchdown before halftime, I felt like we got momentum and we would build off that."
But the third quarter passed without a Broncos score. Instead, Ryan added to the Falcons lead when he hit wide receiver Roddy White for a 4-yard touchdown.
Down 27-7, however, the Broncos began their rally.
First came a 2-yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee, who finished the game with 113 yards on the ground and two scores, to trim Atlanta's lead to 27-14.
The defense forced a three-and-out, and the Broncos drove back into Atlanta territory. The drive stalled when Manning was sacked on third down, but punter Britton Colquitt -- with thanks to wide receiver Matthew Willis' coverage -- downed a punt at the 3-yard line to back Atlanta up into the shadow of its own end zone.
The defense forced its second straight three-and-out, and this time Manning and the offense capitalized.
With 3:25 left in the fourth quarter, McGahee plunged into the end zone on fourth-and-goal for his second 2-yard score of the afternoon to pull the Broncos to within one possession -- 27-21.
"I thought our guys battled," Head Coach John Fox said. "As I told them in (the locker room), it didn't start nearly as well as we'd expect it, yet we still battled and had an opportunity to win the game."
Denver kicked off to the Falcons with a chance to get the ball back -- two timeouts and the two-minute warning were at Denver's disposal.
Atlanta faced a third-and-5 at its own 25-yard line on the ensuing drive, but a 6-yard strike from Ryan to wide receiver Julio Jones earned a first down as the clock ran down to the two-minute warning.
A 15-yard run by Turner two plays later locked up the game, as Ryan took a knee on consecutive plays to seal the Falcons victory.
"We knew, defensively, if we just keep getting stops and putting that ball back in No. 18's hands, we could get back in this game," linebacker Keith Brooking said. "Unfortunately we weren't able to make plays in the end to win."
After the game, the locker room was disappointed in the loss, but proud of the way the group banded together to battle back.
"I never once thought the game was over," Manning said. "I knew it'd be difficult, I knew it'd be tough. Like I said, most teams that turn the ball over four times, there's no chance, people are leaving. We had a chance to win that game. I think we will learn from it and I think we'll be better for it."