CINCINNATI – **With the Broncos slated to receive the ball to open the third quarter, quarterback Demaryius Thomas said it was a point of emphasis to start the second half fast.
Trindon Holliday took that to heart and didn't even give Manning a chance to touch the ball on the Broncos' opening possession.
Instead, he took the kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown to mark the longest play in Broncos history.
"Obviously, getting that kickoff return was a huge play," Manning said. "We talked about getting off the second half with a good start. You can't start any faster. Holliday made a great play."
Sunday marked Holliday's first game returning kickoffs for the Broncos, and after taking a knee for a touchback on his first attempt, he got a chance to showcase his speed.
"Coach told us we had to play 60 minutes," Holliday said. "I just came out in the second half and we were going to get the ball back, so I just tried to make something happen."
The return was the Broncos' first kick-return touchdown since Cassius Vaughn took one 97 yards for a score in the team's final game of the 2010 season.
Holliday scored three touchdowns on kick and punt returns during the 2012 preseason, but Sunday's 105-yarder was his first career regular-season touchdown.
"It felt great," Holliday said. "It's just a long time coming."
The Broncos saw enough on tape of Holliday after preparing to face him in Week 3 against Houston to jump at the opportunity to acquire the eight-time track-and-field All-American.
"He is explosive," Fox said. "His return was a big-time play to start us off in the third quarter. He's a guy that's just going to get more used to what we're doing and getting around his teammates. He's a very explosive guy for sure."
Holliday won the 2009 NCAA 100-meter dash with a time of 10.0 seconds, and that speed gave the Bengals no chance to catch Holliday once he hit the open field.
"No, never," Holliday said, when asked if he'd ever been caught from behind. "I knew I was gone once I passed the first wave."
MILLER AT HOME IN THE BACKFIELD
Last year when the Bengals traveled to Denver, linebacker Von Miller registered a career milestone with his first NFL sack.
Sunday, he set another mark, recording a career high with three quarterback takedowns of fellow second-year player Andy Dalton.
"He is a very gifted player," Head Coach John Fox said. "We're proud to have him here with the Denver Broncos. He came up big."
In addition to the three sacks, Miller tied for second on the team with six tackles and finished with four quarterback hits and three tackles for a loss. He also drew a holding penalty that erased what had been a 19-yard pickup on third-and-15 for the Bengals.
"That's a great thing having him come off the edge," safety Mike Adams said. "I wouldn't trade him for the world. He's doing a great job."
All three of Miller's sacks proved to be key plays to limit potential Bengals scoring drives.
His first sack came in the second quarter on a second-and-14 play from the Cincinnati 40-yard line, throwing a wrench into what began as great field position for the Bengals.
Miller's second dropped Dalton for a 3-yard loss on the first play of the Bengals' two-minute drive at the end of the second quarter, keeping the clock running. Cincinnati would end up missing a 46-yard field goal to end the half.
With Cincinnati driving into Denver territory, Miller collected No. 3. On third down, Dalton had nowhere to unload the ball, as the Broncos secondary had everyone covered. Miller took care of the rest, dropping Dalton for a 7-yard loss to force a 49-yard field goal.
"We had great coverage – (cornerback) Chris Harris Jr., (cornerback) Champ Bailey, (safety) Rahim Moore, all those guys had great games," Miller said. "They were able to give us time to rush the passer. Whenever you can get time to do your job, we have to get there. And that's what we did today."
THIRD-DOWN SUCCESS ON BOTH SIDES OF THE BALL
All season, third-down conversions have been a point of emphasis on both sides of the ball for the Broncos.
Sunday, the offense converted 64 percent (9-of-14) of its third-down opportunities, while the defense limited the Bengals to a 36-percent conversion rate (5-of-14).
"It's big," said wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who made two of his three catches on third down. "Obviously you want to put yourself in third-and-manageable and we were able to do that today. You want to keep those chains moving and give yourself a chance to finish drives off. We were able to do that today so that was big for us."
On its 14 third-downs, Denver needed an average of 5.1 yards to move the chains.
Staying away from third-and-longs left more of the playbook available to Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy as he called the third-down plays.
"Keeping it third-and-short and then you can find ways to convert," tight end Joel Dreessen said. "You can run it, you can throw it short, you can hit them with some play-action. There are a lot of options with third-and-5 or less."
On the other side of the ball, Cincinnati faced an average of 8.4 yards on its third-down attempts.
In the fourth quarter, as Denver mounted its comeback, the offense converted all three of its third-down attempts, while the defense held Cincinnati to 1-of-4.
"That is a tough offense and you have to win on third down against them," Cincinnati Head Coach Marvin Lewis said. "In the fourth quarter when it got down to winning or losing, they converted a couple of third downs that ended up being the difference in the football game."
The only player to leave the game with an injury and not return for the Broncos was guard Chris Kuper.
After the game, Fox said that while the extent of the ankle injury isn't known, the seventh-year guard did not break any bones.
"I don't know the seriousness of it right now," Fox said. "We'll continue to evaluate it."
Kuper spent the offseason recovering from a broken ankle suffered in the final regular-season game of the 2011 season, then broke his forearm in training camp. He returned for Denver's Week 5 game at New England and has appeared in every game since.
"You certainly hate anybody getting injured," Manning said. "Any time you see the trainers come out … you hate to see that."
Elected a team captain by his teammates, Kuper is the longest-tenured member of the Broncos offense. Seeing him go down with another injury was difficult for Stokley.
"So tough," Stokley said. "That guy has worked so hard. Besides Peyton, he's our leader on offenses and kind of the heart and soul of the offensive line. Hopefully it's nothing serious, but yeah, that was tough."