DENVER (AP) – Ever the perfectionist, Peyton Manning momentarily stepped back on the field long after his night was concluded just so he could lob a few more passes in a steady drizzle.
The Denver Broncos’ quarterback made his reappearance during a break in the action to hone his “wet-ball mechanics,” coach John Fox joked after a 27-26 preseason win over the St. Louis Rams on Saturday night.
Utilizing an up-tempo offense, Manning & Co. were virtually unstoppable against the Rams’ starting defense.
That is, until the Broncos stopped themselves by turning the ball over four times, including a fumble from Ronnie Hillman which rookie linebacker Alec Ogletree scooped up and returned for a TD.
“It’s disappointing when you don’t take care of the ball,” said Manning, who finished 25 of 34 for 234 yards, a TD and an interception. “Four turnovers in a game is not what you want to do.”
Here are five things we learned from a game in which the Broncos (2-1) and Rams (0-3) played a bulk of their starters in the first half:
1. GROUND PROBLEMS: Just when it looked like Hillman had the starting job all but locked up, he fumbled. Again.
For the second straight game, Hillman’s turnover was returned for a TD. The week before in Seattle, Hillman’s miscue at the goal line was taken 106 yards for a score.
This time, Ogletree ripped the ball out of Hillman’s hands and trotted 13 yards for a score.
“I still have great confidence,” Fox said of Hillman.
Meanwhile, rookie Montee Ball had a productive game, rushing for 43 yards and a score. Knowshon Moreno was solid, too, finishing with 33 yards rushing. He added another 42 on three catches.
2. ELECTRIC AUSTIN: Rookie Tavon Austin showed his explosiveness, fielding a punt in the first quarter and racing 81 yards. Had his blockers been able to actually block punter Britton Colquitt, Austin could’ve scored. No worries, though, Sam Bradford threw a short TD pass on the next play.
Austin returned two punts for 104 yards. He also had one catch for 12 yards.
“I felt good for the most part,” Austin said.
3. STILL MILLER’S TIME: Even though he’s staring at a six-game suspension, defensive end/linebacker Von Miller played a majority of the first half with the first-team unit. The Pro Bowler finished two tackles.
After the game, Miller declined to talk about his performance.
With Miller soon to be sidelined for violating the NFL’s drug-abuse policy, Shaun Phillips will be counted on to step up.
“I didn’t come here to be a cheerleader,” Phillips said.
4. ELITE COMPANY: The youthful St. Louis secondary is receiving quite an early test. Last week, the Rams went up against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. On Saturday, it was Manning.
“He’s a heck of a player and it’s good to see him in the preseason,” defensive end Chris Long said.
It doesn’t get any easier on Thursday when the Rams face Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens.
“We have a young secondary, so I think it gives our guys a chance to play against the best,” linebacker James Laurinaitis said.
5. NOT SO SPECIAL TEAMS: The Broncos surrendered a long return, had a field goal attempted blocked and muffed a punt. Not exactly a stellar night for the special teams.
However, Lerentee McCray did get a hand on a Brett Baer punt late in the game that set up what would be the Broncos’ winning TD.
“It’s all disconcerting,” Fox said. “It’s something we will look at.”
By PAT GRAHAM, AP Sports Writer
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