DETROIT (The Sports Xchange) – Peyton Manning just wanted to get a first down in the closing seconds of the first half. With a lot of help from his top receiver, Demaryius Thomas, Manning ended up making the biggest play of the game.

Manning’s 45-yard scoring strike to Thomas gave the Denver Broncos an eight-point lead and they held on for a 24-12 victory over the winless Detroit Lions on Sunday night at Ford Field.

Manning was looking to hit his other favorite target, Emmanuel Sanders, on a shorter route, but that was covered. So he took a chance down the right sideline and Thomas out-fought cornerback Darius Slay for the ball, then sauntered into the end zone to give the Broncos a 14-6 lead with five seconds left in the half.

“We knew we had to take a chance. I caught the corner squatting a little bit and DT was able to get behind him,” said Manning, who threw for 324 yards and surpassed 6,000 career completions during the third quarter. “I was looking to Emmanuel first, so I was kind of late going to DT because I just wanted to get the first down. DT made a great play and was able to get to the end zone.”

Thomas caught nine passes for 92 yards and running back Ronnie Hillman added a rushing touchdown for the Broncos (3-0).

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford passed for 282 yards and a touchdown but was intercepted twice and lost a fumble. Stafford was also sacked four times.

“They’ve been exceptional,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said of his defense. “We need to fix the penalties but we continue to play hard defensively and continue to get our hands on balls. We’ve been special at that. We have to keep doing that, find some consistency offensively and keep plugging away.”

Kubiak’s offense was held to 41 rushing yards, but Manning was efficient, completing 31 of 42 passes. Denver used the Pistol formation extensively to allow Manning to scan the field, rather than having him under center.

“We protected him better,” Kubiak said. “I know he likes to see the field from back there.”

Wide receiver Calvin Johnson caught eight passes for 77 yards, and running back Joique Bell had a rushing touchdown for the Lions (0-3). But they couldn’t overcome Stafford’s turnovers. He was battered in Detroit’s first two games and once again took a beating.

“Regardless of injuries and all those kinds of things, we still should be playing better,” Detroit coach Jim Caldwell said. “That’s the key. We ought to be playing better. You can make all the excuses you want but the fact of the matter is we should be playing better.”

The Lions head to Seattle next Monday night with the prospect of falling even further behind in the early going.

“We do have 13 games left,” Caldwell said. “They’re not handing out any trophies after three games and you can’t be eliminated after three games. I know there are all kinds of stats out there about who does what at 0-3. I don’t care about all of that stuff.”

The Lions made the game close early in the third period. Thomas extended his arm to try to pick up a first down on Denver’s initial second-half possession and lost the ball. It was ruled a fumble after an officials’ review and the Lions cashed in the gift on Stafford’s 16-yard pass to running back Ameer Abdullah. Bell was stopped on a 2-point try, leaving Detroit with a 14-12 deficit.

Stafford fumbled trying to scramble out of trouble with 10:12 remaining and Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson recovered at the Detroit 49. Brandon McManus missed a 53-yard field goal try but the Lions were called for an illegal formation. He then connected from 48 yards out with 7:50 remaining to make it 17-12.

Tight end Owen Daniels’ 11-yard touchdown catch with 2:28 left following Stafford’s second interception gave Denver some insurance.

NOTES: LB DeAndre Levy (hip) and TE Brandon Pettigrew (hamstring) were among the inactives for the Lions, while CB Kayvon Webster (ankle) and DE Kenny Anunike (knee) missed the game for the Broncos. … Lions WR Calvin Johnson and Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas rank 1-2 since the 2011 season in 100-yard receiving games. Johnson began the game with 32, three more than Thomas. … The Broncos led the all-time series 6-5 but the Lions won the last two, including a 45-10 romp on Oct. 30, 2011. … Detroit won its last four home openers. … Denver’s Owen Daniels caught a first-quarter pass, extending the NFL’s longest active streak by a tight end to 106 games with at least one reception.

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