NFL Winners and Losers: What do we make of Peyton Manning and Denver? (Shutdown Corner)

In the NFL regular-season opener two years ago, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning threw seven touchdowns against the Baltimore Ravens. On Sunday, the only touchdown Manning threw was the one that was intercepted and returned to the end zone by Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith. The man who had a streak of consecutive games with a touchdown pass snapped at 51 last December has now gone two straight regular-season games without a passing touchdown. Was it really just two years ago that Manning carved up the Ravens, the start of the best offensive season anyone in NFL history has ever had? The Broncos won on Sunday, besting the Ravens 19-13 thanks to a huge defensive effort and four field goals by Brandon McManus. The win is great for Denver, but that won’t be the only focus. There will be plenty of discussion about Manning, because he didn’t do anything to turn around some offseason worries, and Gary Kubiak’s new offense that struggled. Manning completed 24-of-40 for 175 yards and no touchdowns. The offense didn’t get in the end zone; cornerback Aqib Talib’s interception return was the Broncos’ only touchdown. Manning’s 4.4 yards per attempt is pretty scary for Denver. There’s always too much overreaction after Week 1, because that’s all we have to analyze. But there has to be some fear that this was a continuation of what we saw late last season, which came to a head in the playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts. It looked like Manning was hitting a wall. Why would we feel any differently about that one game into the 2015 season? A better question might be why the Denver offensive plan we heard about all offseason was never used. If you remember, this season was supposed to be all about the running game with Manning in more of a supporting role. Maybe that offense arrived during a 10:56 drive in the fourth quarter that ended with a field goal. The Broncos handed off 11 times and threw five times. Before that, the Broncos threw 35 times and handed off 13. That’s not what was supposed to happen with Kubiak running the show. It made no sense that it changed so drastically, even if the Ravens game-planned to force Manning to pass the ball. And doesn’t that say something about Manning too, if that was Baltimore’s plan? The Ravens weren’t some dynamo against the pass last year. They were just 10 th in yards allowed last season and only 13 teams allowed a worse rating than the 90.6 the Ravens allowed to opposing quarterbacks. And Manning didn’t crack 5 yards per attempt against them. An offensive line that allowed Manning to get hit way too often didn’t help. Manning was a little prickly when answering questions about the offense’s struggles after the game. “It’s Week 1. We’re a work in progress,“ Manning said, according to Nicki Jhabvala of the Denver Post . “If you need a catchy headline for your little article or whatever it is you might be doing, ‘We’re trying to get better every single week.’ What’s another cliché I can think of? ‘We’re chipping away.’ Something along those lines.” Manning is right. It’s just one week. Just because something looked like it did on Sunday doesn’t mean that will repeat 15 times. There has to be some concern in Denver but it can be erased pretty quickly. This all sets up a very interesting game on Thursday night at Kansas City. The Chiefs looked pretty good on Sunday. The Broncos won, and have won four straight division titles, but the offense struggled in the preseason and didn’t do much in Week 1. All eyes will be on Manning for the nationally televised game. We see Week 1 outliers happen every year. The Broncos better hope that’s all Sunday was for their 39-year-old quarterback. Here are the rest of the winners and losers from Week 1:  WINNERS AFC East: This looked like the best division in football on paper, and after one week there’s no reason to think otherwise. The New England Patriots beat the Steelers on opening night in a game that was much more lopsided than the final 28-21 score would indicate. The New York Jets beat up the Cleveland Browns 31-10. The Miami Dolphins didn’t look great by any means but still got a 17-10 road win against the Washington Redskins. And the Buffalo Bills might have put forth the most impressive performance of Week 1, dominating the Indianapolis Colts in a 27-14 win. The division got tougher in the offseason, with the three “other” teams adding big stars to make a run at the Super Bowl champs. The division went 4-0 in Week 1, so it looks like those moves are paying off. James Jones: Think about the chain of events that led to Jones starring for the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.  Jones was cut by the lowly Raiders in May. On Sept. 5, Jones was out of work again when the Giants cut him. But his old team, the Green Bay Packers, had an opening because Jordy Nelson tore his ACL in the preseason. And that’s how Jones went from being cut by the Raiders and Giants over four months to scoring two touchdowns with 51 yards for the Packers in a 31-23 win over the Chicago Bears. Jones had another touchdown called back due to a penalty. And it just proves that Aaron Rodgers really can turn anyone into a star. Kam Chancellor: Not that Chancellor was rooting against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. But the strong safety’s leverage probably improved. Chancellor is holding out, and his replacement Dion Bailey gave up a game-tying 37-yard touchdown in the final minute against St. Louis Rams tight end Lance Kendricks. The Seahawks went on to lose in overtime . The Seahawks generally struggle at St. Louis. They’ve lost three of their last four there, and they struggled badly in the one win (a 135-yard effort in 2013) and were lucky to escape. So maybe Sunday was just an off day in a stadium they never play well in. But it’s not like the Seahawks to give up 34 points to a team like the Rams (one touchdown came on a Tavon Austin punt return) and get carved up by a quarterback like Nick Foles. The Seahawks have lost a lot of pieces in free agency, but have mostly been able to keep rolling because the core has stayed intact. Chancellor is a big part of that core though. The Seahawks missed him on Sunday. It’s not like you couldn’t see it coming either – Marshawn Lynch didn’t wear Chancellor’s jersey at practice Friday as a fashion statement. You wonder if Sunday might change the Seahawks’ stance on not renegotiating his contract. Travis Kelce: Who needs touchdowns from wide receivers anyway? It doesn’t matter when you have a tight end like Travis Kelce to throw to. The Chiefs went another game without a touchdown to a wide receiver, but they did just fine in an impressive 27-20 win over the Houston Texans. Kelce got the Chiefs off to a great start, with two first-quarter touchdowns. He had six catches for 106 yards. Rob Gronkowski showed on Thursday night that he’s the best tight end in football, and fellow tight end star Jimmy Graham had 51 yards and a touchdown in his first game with the Seattle Seahawks, but Kelce has entered that tier of top-end tight ends. LOSERS Indianapolis Colts: There was a telling sequence on Sunday. The Buffalo Bills used a running play, with left guard Richie Incognito pulling through the hole, for a touchdown by LeSean McCoy. That was called back because of a penalty. So the Bills ran the exact same play on the next down and gained 5 yards. They didn’t care of the Colts had just seen it; the Bills just didn’t think they could stop it. If the Colts are going to rid themselves of the label of being soft, this isn’t the way to do it. Rex Ryan wants to build the Bills into a tough team that pushes everyone around, and they did just that on Sunday. That game was never in doubt. The Bills rushed for 147 yards. They kept the Colts off the scoreboard until the final minute of the third quarter. The Bills were the tougher team, and the better team too. After trying to shake memories of Jonas Gray and LeGarrette Blount running through them in a couple Patriots losses last season, the Colts are back where they started. They’re not going to be taken seriously as a real Super Bowl contender until they can change this perception they’re a soft team. Detroit Lions: When you lead 21-3 on the road, you have to finish the job. The Lions are going to regret collapsing at San Diego in Week 1. There were some positives, most notably that rookie running back Ameer Abdullah looked like the real deal. But even though they got two huge interceptions off Philip Rivers, including one returned for a touchdown and another in their own end zone, they couldn’t win. That’ll sting later. Oakland Raiders: The worst thing that could happen to a beaten-down franchise like the Raiders happened on Sunday. The Raiders spent all offseason building some momentum . There were some good vibes around the franchise for the first time in a really long time. Maybe this wasn’t the year they competed for a division title, but they could at least be more competitive. Maybe it changes in Week 2 and beyond, but Week 1 was ugly. The Cincinnati Bengals came to Oakland and were up 33-0 in the third quarter. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was knocked out with a hand injury. The offense was anemic, producing just one play of more than 13 yards. The defense got beat on the ground and in the air (mostly by Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who had nine catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns). It was a debacle. It’s hard to build up confidence within a team when the default is “here we go again.” Coach Jack Del Rio has a challenge this week. It’ll be hard to get that offseason momentum back. – – – – – – – Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

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