By Nate Winkler
Cold Hard Football Facts' Wild West Bureau Chief
The NFL season kicked into high gear Sunday with 13 games spanning nearly 11 hours. Two of the AFC West teams got their seasons underway with two dramatically different results. Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons hung 41 on the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, while Peyton Manning did his best WD-40 impersonation in an impressive 31-19 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Mile High.
Here's what we learned:
1. Peyton Manning impressed with what was above his neck in a rust-proof performance.
The AFC is officially on notice after Manning went 19-26 (73 percent) for 253 Yds and 2 TDs. That's a 129.2 Quarterback Rating, a 9.73 Yards Per Attempt average and a 31-19 Broncos victory in Manning's first NFL game in 610 days.
Manning's arm may not have the zip it did when he was 30, but he made the right decision with the football on 25 of his 26 pass attempts.
His 400th touchdown pass came on a 71 yard catch and run by Demaryius Thomas, who's quickly become Public Enemy #1 in the Steel City.
2. The Kansas City Chiefs aren't good enough to overcome three Matt Cassel turnovers, even at home.
Kansas City matched the high powered Atlanta Falcons blow for blow in a first half that saw zero punts but would have been shut out in the 2nd half if not for a very late touchdown that was of no consequence to anyone but fantasy owners. The Falcons romped 40-24.
Matt Cassel threw for a touchdown and ran for another in the 2nd quarter, but ended up with a 72.9 QBR after going 21-33 (63.6%) for 258 Yds with two INTs and a lost fumble.
Since re-alignment in 2002 gave us the current divisions, teams in the AFC West are 26-134 (.163) when they commit 3+ turnovers, including 5-30 (.143) by the Chiefs.
3. Ben Roethlisberger, you just got Portered.
Manning and the Broncos failed to put the nail in the Steelers' coffin late in the game when they settled for a field goal to take a 25-19 lead with exactly 3:00 left. Three plays later Big Ben got baited by Tracy Porter, who stepped in front of an out-route and danced all the way to the end zone.
Manning lost his second Super Bowl (XLIV) to the New Orleans Saints the exact same way at the end of the 2009 season. Roethlisberger decided to go after Porter all night instead of challenging Champ Bailey and it ended up being one time too many.
Roethlisberger was 11/15 (73.3 percent) for 132 Yds and two TDs (139.2 QBR) on 3rd down against the Broncos defense but ended up with just one completion over 25 yards. He was finally done in by a Broncos pass rush that ended up collecting five sacks, including three straight to end the game.
4. Matt Ryan picked apart the hapless Chiefs defense like they were hickory-smoked pork in the Arrowhead parking lot.
The Chiefs were missing four starters on a defense that is long on talent but short on depth. Even the return of Eric Berry couldn't stop Matty Ice from tossing for 299 Yds on 23-31 (74.2 percent) with 3 TDs to zero INTs.
Ryan's 136.4 QBR was second on the day only to Washington Redskins' rookie Robert Griffin III, who was the surprise of Week 1 with his 139.9.
Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez combined for 17 of Ryan's 23 completions, with Jones grabbing two TDs and Gonzalez getting one more goal post dunk at Arrowhead.
The Chiefs must get healthy and play better in a division that's suddenly flush with elite quarterbacks...except in Kansas City.
5. Denver's defense was more rubber band than "Crush" on Sunday night, but they'll benefit from Manning as much as the offense.
Denver's linebackers were over-matched in pass coverage and the secondary missed too many tackles, but Peyton Manning is a staggering 89-5 in his career when his team allows 19 points or less.
The Broncos were also dreadful on Third Down defense, allowing 11-19 (58%) conversions, but held the Steelers to just 4.0 Yards Per Play.
Pittsburgh controlled the clock for 14:24 of the 3rd quarter and 35:05 overall as they tried to keep Manning off the field, but two field goals inside the red zone instead of touchdowns ended up being the difference in the game.