CINCINNATI — For all the reasons the Broncos managed to defeat Cincinnati, 31-23 in an entertaining AFC football game here Sunday, let's focus on the singular factor of quarterback composure.
The Broncos' Peyton Manning maintained his despite embarrassing adversity. The Bengals' Andy Dalton went bananas over a seemingly less severe unfortunate event.
"This is Peyton's 15th year and what, Dalton's second year?" said Broncos left guard Zane Beadles. "I mean Peyton has seen a lot more football than Andy has and it's probably the way it should be, for Peyton to have a lot more composure when you've been doing it that long."
It is difficult to call Manning the difference in a win when the Broncos' Trindon Holliday scored on a 105-yard kickoff return, Von Miller had three sacks, Eric Decker had a monster receiving game and the Denver defense came through with another inspiring performance.
But the Broncos would not have won if Manning were not an experienced quarterback who has been through it all. In this game, he threw two, third quarter interceptions that helped turn a 17-3 lead a few seconds into the third quarter into a 20-17 deficit a few seconds into the fourth quarter.
At that point, Manning was staring at goat horns.
"I've certainly been there before," Manning said. "My dad (former NFL quarterback Archie Manning) always talked about, "You've got to get back to zero.' You've got to erase the play from your mind - good play or bad play — and move on to the next one."
After throwing those two picks, Manning calmly came back in his next two possessions to throw two, fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
That's keeping it together.
"That's what makes him great," said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. "I mean obviously he'd like to have those interceptions back but you can't fold. I think sometimes when you go through adverse situations, whether or not you can bounce back it says a lot about you."
As for Dalton, the Bengals' talented second-year quarterback, he lost his cool on a play after the Broncos had regained the lead 24-20. There was 9:20 remaining and Dalton had seemingly rescued the Bengals from a third-and-15 with a 19-yard completion to A.J. Green, Cincinnati's terrific receiver, near midfield. But on the play, Bengals' center Jeff Faine was called for holding Miller.
Why wouldn't he? Miller, the Broncos' superb second-year linebacker, already had his three sacks by then. It may well have been four had Faine not held. The penalty turned first-and-10 at midfield to third-and-25 at the Bengals' own 18. Dalton was livid at referee Scott Green for calling the holding penalty. The quarterback unbuckled his chin strap and gave the ref the what for.
On the next play, Dalton was under pressure and mindlessly chucked the ball deep down field. As he threw, Miller hit his arm — which would have given Dalton an excuse for the poor throw except the pressure was another reason why it was a silly attempt.
"I thought so because there's no way he should have thrown it," Bailey said.
Bailey intercepted the heck-with-it throw at the Bengal 46. As he walked off the field, Dalton continued to chew out Green, a clear indication he had not moved on mentally or emotionally from the previous play.
Manning took advantage of the field position, connecting with old reliable Brandon Stokley for a third down-converting completion and finished off the short drive with his second of two touchdown passes to Decker. This one put the game away. To Dalton's credit, the holding call was a game-changer all right. But was it the flag thrown by Green or Dalton's reaction to the penalty?
"You can't do that," Bailey said.
"I was just rushing the passer, I wasn't worried about his emotions," Miller said.
"I had pressure in my face, I threw it and couldn't get enough on it, and was getting hit," Dalton said. "It was unfortunate that it happened at that time."
The Broncos won their third in a row and improved their AFC West-leading record to 5-3. The Bengals, a playoff team a year ago, lost their fourth in a row and are 3-5.
It's not a stretch to say the Broncos won this one because when it counted in the fourth quarter, they had Manning and the Bengals lost because they didn't have Manning.
Not that it looked this when Manning started throwing the ball to Terence Newman in the third quarter. Newman is a Bengals cornerback. With the ball at the Bengal 9, Manning threw an in-route to Decker at the goal-line but Newman slipped in front for an end zone interception. On his next possession, Manning was backed up near his own end zone when he overshot Decker and Newman made a basket catch at the Denver 27.
"Poor decision on my part," Manning said. "Just cannot put our defense in that kind of bind."
Shook as any quarterback would be when a 17-3 lead goes to a 20-17 deficit, Manning nevertheless gets rattled less than most. He certainly got rattled less than Dalton.
"Faced some adversity there which we have certainly faced so far this season," Manning said. "It was good to see both sides of the ball respond."