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Peyton Manning struggles, but defense shines in Denver's 19-13 win over Joe Flacco and Ravens


DENVER — Peyton Manning is still searching for answers and the end zone.

Counting the preseason, the NFL's career touchdown champion has yet to find the goal line in 21 drives.

Thanks to Denver's dazzling defense, he's also celebrating a record 13th season-opening win, 19-13 over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in a slugfest Gary Kubiak said "might be the greatest defensive football game I've ever been a part of as a coach."

Manning was 24 of 40 for 175 yards and his four sacks were his most since his emotional homecoming at Indy in 2013. Asked to grade his performance, he said, "I'm going with fair," an assessment that the fans at Sports Authority Field might consider generous judging by their own harsh reactions.

Offenses, though, don't always have to do the heavy lifting, said Broncos safety Aqib Talib, who scored Denver's only touchdown.

"I think John Elway had like 115 yards and won the Super Bowl one time, so it's definitely possible," Talib said.

Manning managed just 150 net yards, but that was 50 more than Joe Flacco in a game in which neither team ran a play inside their opponents' 20 until 3:50 remained.

"Well, we did have two touchdown passes to the other team," Flacco said. "But other than that, yeah, it was an ugly one. And it wasn't too fun to be a part of."

The ground games weren't much better: Baltimore gained 73 yards, Denver 69, in a grind-it-out game that sent many players limping to the sideline or off on carts. The casualty list included Terrell Suggs (torn Achilles) and line judge Gary Arthur broke a collarbone.

The unveiling of Denver's new mashup offense merging Manning's defensive deciphering skills with Kubiak's run-oriented philosophies was largely a dud — bounced passes, overthrows, four sacks, a false start on No. 18 himself — until, that is, he directed a 17-play drive that ate up 81 yards and almost 11 minutes in the fourth quarter. It ended with Brandon McManus' fourth field goal.

"To me that resembled more of the Kubiak offense, chipping away, wearing guys down," said former Ravens tight end Owen Daniels. "Good to do that against a team that prides itself on being physical and being bullies."

PHOTO: Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco throws against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco throws against the Denver Broncos during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Safety Darian Stewart, who also followed Kubiak to Denver, snatched the ball from tight end Crockett Gillmore in the end zone with 28 seconds left to seal the win for the four-time defending AFC West champs.

"That's my old team and it was just good to go out there and finally get to hit them," Stewart said.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith's 24-yard pick-6 was Baltimore's only touchdown and Talib responded with a 51-yard interception return for a TD that put Denver ahead for good, 16-13.

Manning was playing behind an O-line with four new players, two of whom made their NFL debut. But he wasn't about to dissect the offense's performance, testily insisting, "no matter how many times you ask it, this is not three different teams we have here. We don't have a Broncos offensive team, a Broncos defensive team and a Broncos special teams.

"The Broncos beat the Ravens today. There's your summary right there."

The only points in the first half came through the uprights with McManus kicking three field goals and joining Greg Zuerlein as the only kickers in NFL history with multiple field goals of 56 yards or more in the same game. McManus was good from 57, 56 and 43 yards, and Justin Tucker kicked a 52-yarder for Baltimore.

The Broncos won for just the second time in 23 years when not scoring a touchdown. The last time they managed to do it was Sept. 17, 2006, when they beat the Chiefs. 9-6.

"You better be able to win this way in this league," Kubiak said. "It's just too tough a league."

The Broncos have a short turnaround with a game at Kansas City on Thursday night. The Ravens, who travel to Oakland, will have to handle the loss of Suggs, their emotional leader.

"It's huge," Elvis Dumervil said. "It's hard to replace 55. He's like the heart and soul of this defense and almost this football team."

Notes: Broncos injuries were: CB Omar Bolden (foot), DE Malik Jackson (concussion) and S David Bruton Jr. (hip). ... Manning (13-4) broke a tie with Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Elway for most opening game wins in league history.

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PHOTO: Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus, right, celebrates his field goal with Britton Colquitt during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens  Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
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