While chatting with Baltimore media Wednesday, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning insisted that his long winning streak against the Ravens was about each game — the collective efforts, unique personalities and different circumstances of each of those individual victories.
But even though Manning arrived at M&T; Bank Stadium in new colors with a new organization, Sunday's game sure felt familiar to the Ravens. With Manning pointing at their defenders before the snap, then picking them apart once the ball was in his hands, the Broncos rolled to a 34-17 win.
"He's a great player regardless of what team he's with," Broncos coach John Fox said. "He's a tremendous competitor and a great player in this league — and thank God he's with the Denver Broncos."
The Ravens rattled Manning with pressure early, but he rallied, throwing for 204 yards and a touchdown before spending most of the fourth quarter handing the ball to his running backs.
Manning didn't put up gaudy passing numbers, but he did his thing at the line of scrimmage, checking to running plays that moved the chains and set up play-action passes. Running back Knowshon Moreno rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown, and the Broncos defense scored on a 98-yard interception return. Denver's ninth straight win was another team victory, Manning said.
"That's what you have to have, especially late in the season. You have to have all parts of your team contributing," he said. "Our run game was solid and it set up some things in our passing game. The defense played good and we got some good returns out of [Trindon] Holliday. And we beat a good team today. This is a good football team that we beat at their place today."
It was his ninth straight win against the Ravens, including the postseason, but his first with the Broncos, who signed the 36-year-old after the Indianapolis Colts released him this past March.
It also marked the first time the Broncos had won in Baltimore in six cross-country road trips.
"This is a good place to come in here and get a road win," said Manning, showing respect.
Early in the game, Manning did not look like the quarterback who has tormented the Ravens since 2002. He was sacked twice in the first half, missed wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in the end zone during the first quarter and completed 13 of his 20 attempts for 97 yards before halftime.
But on Denver's first possession of the second half, Manning faked a handoff to running back Jacob Hester before lobbing a high-arcing throw to Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker, who got separation after cornerback Cary Williams slowed down during Decker's mid-route stutter step.
"We were hitting some outs and some intermediate routes, and we thought it was time to maybe take something down the field," Manning said of his 31st touchdown pass this season. "It was a double move by Eric — good route, good protection, and it was all set up by the running game."
Without a deep safety in the vicinity because Ed Reed also bit on the double move, Decker caught the pass at the 15-yard line and coasted into the end zone. The 51-yard reception was the third-longest pass and the second-longest scoring play the Ravens have allowed in 2012.
Working with a short field on his next drive, Manning threaded a pass over linebacker Josh Bynes to tight end Joel Dreessen, who caught the ball between Reed and fellow safety James Ihedigbo for a 28-yard gain. Two plays later, Manning appeared to check into a running play and handed the ball to Moreno, who ran for a 6-yard touchdown that put the Broncos up, 31-3.
"When the ball stays in the hands of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game," linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said, "most people are going to lose in that situation."
With a comfortable lead, Manning threw just one pass in the fourth quarter before giving way to rookie backup Brock Osweiler. The Broncos ran the ball on 19 of their 20 fourth-quarter plays.
After the game, Manning, who completed 17 of 28 passes, said his arm strength still isn't all the way back after multiple neck surgeries. And he says he is still getting used to his new teammates and a new environment after wearing that familiar white helmet with the blue horseshoe logo for 13 seasons.
"[You] get a little more comfortable with something every day," said Manning, a red mark from a blue and orange helmet still stamped on his forehead. "It's still very new, no question about it."
But as far as everyone else was concerned, the same, old Peyton Manning played on Sunday.