DENVER – After an offseason of questions about how Demaryius Thomas would spread the ball around to all of his pass-catching options, the quarterback answered them emphatically in Denver's season-opening 49-27 win vs. Baltimore.
He'll use all of them.
Manning showed there are plenty of catches to go around as he completed passes to seven different Broncos and tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in the win over the Ravens.
Tight end Julius Thomas caught the first two scores of his career and wide receiver Wes Welker caught his first two as a Bronco. Demaryius Thomas added a pair and Andre Caldwell hauled in one of his own.
"It's fun to play quarterback when you have a lot of guys working hard and making a lot of plays for you," Manning said.
Manning became the second player in league history to throw for seven touchdowns with zero interceptions. The 49 points that Manning led the Broncos' offense to score represent the most allowed by the Ravens in club history.
The 16th-year pro finished the night 27-of-42 for 462 yards with the seven touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 141.1.
"It's incredible," Head Coach John Fox said of the 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 seven touchdowns represented a career high and the 462 passing yards were the second-most in his career. The passing-yard total ties for third in Broncos history and is Manning's highest in a win for his career.
He becomes the sixth player in NFL history to throw for seven scores in a game and is the first to do so in more than 40 years.
"You never know what is going to happen in a game," Manning said. "I felt like we had to keep scoring. Baltimore is an
explosive offense and our defense never relaxed. They kept bringing the heat. I thought they did a good job playing and answering the bell without some of our top players – without Champ, without Von. I'm proud of our defensive players. We felt like we had to keep scoring because Baltimore can score at any time."
Manning didn't even see his first touchdown pass of the year, instead relying on the roar of the 76,977 fans in attendance to tell him that the play finished in the end zone after he took a hit as he released the ball.
"I did not quite see him get in the end zone," Manning said. "That is always a good sound after you get blasted on the ground and you are playing at home and you hear the crowd cheering, it usually means touchdown. The hit does not hurt quite as bad when you hear that noise."
Even if he missed the first, he got a chance to see the other six, three of which came in a six-minute span in the third quarter.
During that stretch, Manning and Welker connected for the first-year Broncos' first two touchdowns with Denver.
"Wes has worked hard," Manning said. "He and I put a lot of time in, in just a short amount of time. We started back in April at an off-campus site. We put a lot of time into trying to get some rapport. It's nice to be able to put that work to good use and get some touchdowns tonight."
Two players went over the 100-yard receiving mark in the win, both with the same last name of Thomas.
Julius Thomas caught the first two Broncos touchdowns of the game and Demaryius Thomas had the last two.
Thomas the tight end finished with five catches for 110 yards and Thomas the wideout caught five passes for a game-high 161 yards.
"It will be interesting to see how teams play Julius (Thomas) all season," Manning said. "He is a big guy, he definitely will make teams have a conversation, and that is what you want. You want guys that make teams have a discussion. 'How are we going to handle this guy?'"
As for Demaryius Thomas?
"If you get it in his hands and he finds a seam, it is night-night," Manning said. "It's a pretty thing to watch as a quarterback, watching him hit that seam there and take that the distance. Any way to get the ball in those guys hands, that's what Adam's trying to do. We're going to need those guys to make plays for us all season long."
With the NFL spotlight shining on the city of Denver, Manning and the Broncos' offense got off to a slow start, but surged in the second half to start the 2013 campaign 1-0.
After gaining just 59 net yards in the first quarter, the offense averaged 150 over the final three frames to finish with 510 for the game.
"Well, it was a great team win," Manning said. "It was certainly an exciting atmosphere any time you can open up an NFL season – the crowd was awesome. They were into it. They stayed with us when we were going through a little lull there in the beginning. We wanted to get something going. The crowd was really tough, I think, on their offense all night. Any time you can get a win to start the season at home, it's definitely a special feeling. But, it's just one win – we all know that."