After the game, former 49er quarterback turned announcer Steve Young was asked to pontificate on the major headlines that would result from the night. Apparently immune to fines from the league – though Roger Goodell might certainly try to find a way to penalize the commentator for his comments – Young didn’t hesitate – (i) Peyton Manning’s three first quarter interceptions and (ii) the officiating. Of course, the other headline is that the Atlanta Falcons looked and played like a playoff team, maybe even a Super Bowl contender.
In the worst first quarter of his career, Peyton Manning threw three interceptions in the first 8:10 of the game. If Vegas had been taking odds on that particular stat, they would have been 1,468,349 to 1. It’s like the Falcons secondary won the Georgia lottery, but instead of cash they got wobbly, poorly thrown passed dropped in their laps.
Atlanta’s William Moore, Thomas DeCoud and Robert McClain all got into the act. The Falcons did a tremendous job of disguising coverage, confusing Manning and getting intense pressure on him. They were swarming and looked incredibly quick. But, let’s be honest: Peyton didn’t look like Peyton during the first quarter. His passes lacked velocity and came out of his golden arm looking like ducks over a Wisconsin lake during hunting season.
On the other side of the ball, Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense had moments of brilliance, especially at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third. Ryan and Roddy White seemed to be playing pitch and catch as the Falcons moved the ball easily. That said, Denver’s defense kept them in this game. The three interceptions and one Knowshon Moreno fumble resulted in only 13 points. The Broncos were down only 20-7 at halftime after doing everything they could to give the Falcons an insurmountable lead.
Matty Ice understood. When asked post-game about his offense’s first half performance, he responded, “Our defense did a great job. The first quarter was unbelievable to get some of those turnovers and give our offense some field position.”
Manning did his best to channel his brother Eli’s remarkable Sunday comeback, leading the Broncos to two scoring drives in the fourth quarter with precise passing. If NFL games were 62 minutes, you got the feeling he would have got it done. But in the end, it was too little, too late.
Unfortunately, Manning and Ryan weren’t the only ones making headlines last night. The replacement referees were abysmal. There were a number of missed calls, which happens even with the NFL’s A-team zebras, but the real issue was how the game got out of control – both with scrums and the lack of any continuity – it was a very hard game to watch – making one understand why soccer might be the most popular game in the world. It was hardly the sort of product the NFL should be putting out on the field. ESPN’s Peter King tweeted after the game, “Lord. What a debacle.”
After last week’s game, Manning looked like the superhuman quarterback hadn’t missed a step after a season off and multiple neck surgeries. Last night he looked human, like a work in progress. Make no mistake, though. He’ll be more motivated than ever.
Ryan looked like the mature leader of a dangerous team. If his past couple of seasons left fans with any doubts, he proved last night that he is on his way to becoming one of the best quarterbacks in the league.
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