By Nate Winkler
Cold, Hard Football Facts Bucking Fronco (@natewinkler)
The Denver Broncos and Peyton Manning are still in their honeymoon period, and as is common in all relationships there's always that awkward moment when you fart in front of your significant other for the first time.
Monday night was Manning's fart, and it was a nose-hair burner.
The Broncos rallied around Manning in a hostile environment against a good Falcons team to make it a game worth staying up for, but fell short in the end by a score of 27-21.
Here are five things we learned:
1. Peyton Manning has been trying to tell everyone that he wasn't back to full strength yet, but he had to go and prove it.
Manning led the Broncos into the Georgia Dome and promptly threw interceptions on his first three possessions for the first time in 209 career regular season games.
His decision making as well as his arm appeared to be shaky as he tossed up biscuits to Atlanta defensive backs Will Moore, Thomas DeCoud, Robert McClain, and Ted Turner.
Manning has now thrown three or more INTs in 16 of his 210 regular season games, and his record in those games is 1-15. His only win? Against the Denver Broncos in 2009. His 58.5 Passer Rating was his lowest since then.
The Falcons did an excellent job of disguising coverages and blitzes as Manning rarely looked comfortable in the pocket.
2. Dear Ed Houculi, please put down the dumbbells and come end this lockout. We need you.
The replacement referees took center stage in the first half of Monday night's game, but not in the way they or Roger Goodell would have hoped. It was more like the time we stole the microphone from the singer at our brother-in-law's wedding and insisted the band play "Margaritaville". Yep, this was that kind of tipping point.
There were 13 penalties enforced and four different challeges administered in the FIRST HALF alone. The scab zebras got dangerously close to losing control of the players after a post-fumble scrum at the end of the first quarter produced a head-scratching result, while giving the Broncos six extra yards after a defensive holding penalty on a half-ending drive that resulted in a Demaryius Thomas touchdown reception.
Inconsistencies on judgement calls like pass interference and personal fouls as well as procedural errors have become a major storyline in the NFL after two games.
3. Matt Ryan's Falcons force defenses to pick their poison, but choose the greatest tight end in NFL history at your own risk.
Tony Gonzalez has faced the Denver Broncos 24 times, more than any other team in his 16 year career. After his MNF performance (7 Rec, 70 Yds, 1 TD) he now has 101 receptions for 1,186 yards (11.74 YPR) and 8 TDs against the Broncos, better than any other opponents that don't reside in the AFC West.
The Broncos sorely missed the presence of nickel cornerback Chris Harris, who was scratched with an ankle injury he suffered last week against the Steelers. His replacement Tony Carter had a bulls-eye on his back all night and was taken advantage of by Ryan and Gonzalez as well as Roddy White, who added a touchdown and finished with a game high 108 yards on eight receptions.
4. There's no surer way to lose a football game in the NFL than to commit four turnovers.
Since division re-alignment before the start of the 2002 season, teams who commit four or more turnovers in a game are a dreadful 75-532-1 (.123). Teams that cough it up four times or more on the road are roughly twice as bad as that, going 21-294-1 (0.067). Conversely, in that same time span, home teams who commit zero turnovers are 469-92 (.836)
The Manning interceptions were complimented by a Knowshon Moreno fumble, all in the first quarter. Moreno's fumble may have hurt the most as the Broncos were driving with a chance to pull within 10-7.
Despite finding themselves in a 20-0 hole with 4:45 left in the first half, the Broncos kept battling and pulled to within 27-21 with 3:29 remaining in the game after Willis McGahee's 61st career rushing touchdown and second of the night, putting him ahead of Terrell Davis on the all time list. McGahee finished with 113 rushing yards on 22 carries (5.1 YPA).
5. There's no such thing as moral victories in the NFL, but since we lack moral standards, we'll give one to the Broncos.
Denver fell one drive short of a miracle comeback after spotting the defending NFC South champions 20 points on their home turf. The Broncos' defense held Matt Ryan to just 219 passing yards on 36 attempts for a pedestrian 6.1 YPA and the longest of his 24 completions was just 15 yards, but he made sound decisions with the football all night unlike his childhood hero on the other sideline.
The Broncos fought to the final whistle, but in the end the turnovers and Raider-like 10 penalties were just too much to overcome. Dropped interceptions by Rahim Moore and Tracy Porter could have been game-changers, but in the end the Falcons made the big plays the Broncos couldn't.
There are now only two undefeated teams left in the AFC (Texans, Chargers) and the Broncos will face both in the next four weeks along with the New England Patriots and Oakland Raiders. A non-conference loss is the best kind, but Atlanta travels to San Diego next week in a game that could have tie-breaker implications.