DENVER – The Vikings made Peyton Manning look average for most of Sunday, but the veteran came up big with the game on the line.
Manning engineered a nine-play, 55-yard drive in the final five minutes to set up Brandon McManus’ decisive 39-yard field goal in the Denver Broncos’ 23-20 win over Minnesota.
It wasn’t a vintage day for the five-time NFL MVP but when his team needed him to play well, Manning responded. He shook off a couple of interceptions that the Vikings turned into 10 points to give the Broncos a close victory.
“He had a couple [of throws] that he’d like to have back, but you trust him in any situation,” Denver coach Gary Kubiak said. “He’s going to find a way to get his football team in a position to win. I’m proud of him being able to do that.”
Manning has struggled with consistency in his 18th season, which has led to talk that at age 39 his arm has lost some zip. He was 17-for-27 for 213 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, and after four games this season he has six TD passes, one fewer than he had in the first game of the 2013 season. He finished that year with NFL records in yards passing (5,477) and touchdown passes (55).
He won’t come close to those numbers this year but his team is 4-0 and has a two-game lead in the AFC West.
“We’ve been winning in the fourth quarter,” Manning said. “We’ve done that each week.”
The perfect mark was in jeopardy after the Vikings rallied from a 13-0 first-half deficit to tie it at 20 on Blair Walsh’s 33-yard field goal with 5:11 left. Manning was intercepted by linebacker Anthony Barr with 32 seconds left in the first half with Denver ahead 13-3, and it led to Teddy Bridgewater’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace two plays later.
Harrison Smith’s interception near midfield with 9:07 left in the fourth set up the tying score, but Manning responded with the game-winning drive the next time he got the ball.
“We had two disappointing turnovers. On both occasions we responded the next series with scoring drives,” Manning said. “We’ve put some drives together at the right time. We had a setback today with the turnover but we were able to overcome that.”
Manning had some throwback moments, too. He connected with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders on a 43-yard pass play in the third quarter, had a 30-yard completion to receiver Demaryius Thomas in the third and threw a 1-yard TD pass to wide-open tight end Owen Daniels on fourth down that gave Denver a 20-10 lead early in the second half.
“It was really quiet in the first half but we were still putting up points and that’s all that matters,” Sanders said. “That fourth-quarter drive at the end of the game was big.”
Manning also showed poise with the game on the line, mixing the run and pass to put Denver in a position to win.
“You don’t want the mistakes to happen but when they do you want to be able to overcome them,” Manning said. “We did that today.”