DENVER --Thursday night, the NFL spotlight shined in Denver -- and so did the Broncos offense.
Quarterback Peyton Manning tied an NFL record with his first career seven-touchdown game as the Broncos defeated the Ravens 49-27 in the opening game of the 2013 season.
"It's incredible," Head Coach John Fox said of Manning's performance. "I mean I thought he was incredible a year ago. I've said it a million times -- to sit out a year, come to a new city, all new teammates, a very unusual type of injury. I don't know where he finished but he was up there in every category that quarterbacks look at. And then this one was pretty phenomenal – seven touchdown passes and ties an NFL record."
The signal caller got started by targeting the Broncos' preseason standout, tight end Julius Thomas. The former fourth-round pick caught four passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He finished the game with five catches for 110 yards.
Still, the Ravens led 17-14 at intermission thanks to a 2-yard Vonta Leach touchdown catch, a 1-yard Ray Rice touchdown run and a 25-yard Justin Tucker field goal.
But just like last season, when the Broncos outscored opponents 153-62 in the third quarter, the Broncos used the initial frame after halftime to their advantage.
Two touchdown passes to new Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker highlighted the period, as did a 28-yard, fingertip grab for a touchdown by wide receiver Andre Caldwell.
Meanwhile, the defense held the Ravens to just 32 yards and two first downs in the quarter, part of an overall effort that stemmed from limiting the combination of Rice and Bernard Pierce to just 58 yards on the ground. The pass rush also got to Joe Flacco for four sacks.
"It's hard to beat the Ravens unless you can stop the run," said cornerback Chris Harris, whose diving, second-quarter interception set up the Broncos for their first points of the game. "If you can't stop the run, the Ravens can beat you all day. That's something we had to do — shut down Ray Rice and eliminate the big, explosive plays. We did both tonight."
The offense continued its barrage in the fourth quarter, as Manning twice found Demaryius Thomas for scores. The first gave Manning his third career six-touchdown game. The last one -- reminiscent of Thomas' bubble screen against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 of the 2012 season -- made Manning the first quarterback to throw seven touchdowns in a single game since 1969.
It was all part of a 462-yard passing night for Manning, which was the most passing yards in a win in his career. He finished with a quarterback rating of 141.1.
"It's like Madden to me," Caldwell laughed. "Just throwing the ball around – a lot of people making plays – it just felt like a video game. It's a great feeling and a great team win."
The Denver defense almost chipped in a touchdown of its own after Danny Trevathan picked off Flacco and sprinted down the sideline late in the fourth quarter. But the second-year linebacker -- starting his first career game -- let go of the ball in celebration before he crossed the goal line. The ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
"It was a young mistake. I was just in the moment," Trevathan said after the game. "They had beaten me on it before and I was like, 'Nah, I'm not going to let them get me on this again.' I broke on it and I was running, I thought I was in the end zone. Next time I'm going hold the ball up high and give it to a fan or something. But it's not going to happen again. I'm growing from it and I'm not let going to let anybody stop me."
The Ravens took advantage of that mistake, driving 80 yards down the field in five plays for a touchdown. A 30-yard field goal from Tucker made it 10 consecutive points for the Ravens and pulled them within two scores, 42-27 -- but Demaryius Thomas' 78-yard touchdown on a screen pass three plays later put the game out of reach.
"If he finds a seam, it's night-night," Manning said of Thomas, who led all players with 161 yards to go with his two scores. "It's a pretty thing to watch as a quarterback."
Next week, the Broncos travel New York to take on the Giants, a matchup Manning joked he's happy he doesn't have to talk about until next Wednesday.
For now, the quarterback, his teammates and his head coach are happy to have started the season off with a win against the defending Super Bowl champions.
"I think it added motivation," Fox said of facing the team that knocked the Broncos out of the 2012 playoffs. "I mean we've had to talk about that game forever. I think we were just looking forward to playing again -- unfortunately it wasn't the next week of last year. We had to wait eight months. Really at the end of the day it was a fire in your belly, a pain, a scar – I don't know, anywhere you want. But it is a motivator."