DENVER — Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos waited eight long months — then another 33 minutes — to get the season started and exact revenge against the Baltimore Ravens.
A record-tying seven touchdown passes — something no one had done in 44 years — from Manning made it worth the wait.
Connecting with his most prized addition, Wes Welker, along with Demaryius Thomas and former college basketball player Julius Thomas for two TDs each, Manning directed Denver to a 49-27 victory over the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night in the NFL opener, a much-anticipated rematch against the team that ended the Broncos’ playoff run in January.
Manning is the sixth QB in NFL history to throw seven TD passes in a game and the first since Joe Kapp did it for Minnesota against Baltimore on Sept. 28, 1969.
Manning was 27-for-42 passing for 462 yards and was not intercepted.
It was a thorough thrashing of the team that put a harsh end to what had looked like a Super Bowl journey for the 2012 Broncos. The rematch came nearly eight months after Baltimore beat Denver, 38-35 in double overtime, on an icy January night in the same stadium.
The Broncos waited all offseason for the rematch, then for 33 minutes more when a lightning storm in the area delayed the start.
When the teams finally took the field, it was clear how much had changed.
Pass rusher Elvis Dumervil moved from Denver to Baltimore as part of a bizarre contract squabble. Receiver Brandon Stokley also switched sides to the Ravens.
The Broncos lost their best defender, Von Miller, to a drug suspension, while Baltimore had to rebuild its defense after losing emotional leaders Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
The Ravens suffered another loss of sorts when they were forced to play the season’s traditional opener on the road because of a scheduling conflict with baseball’s Orioles in Baltimore. The NFL hung a Flacco banner at Denver’s stadium, but he hardly felt at home.
Armed with a new six-year, $120.6 million contract, Flacco had Baltimore ahead 17-14 at halftime but had to play catch-up after falling behind 35-17 early in the third quarter. His was 34-for-62 for 362 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
Manning’s seventh TD traveled only a few yards in the air, but Thomas hauled in the pass in the left flat and turned on the jets, racing past several gassed defenders for a 78-yard touchdown that capped the scoring.