ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Normally the coolest customer on Denver’s offense, the replays show Peyton Manning clearly flustered.
He’s gesturing and yelling at Knowshon Moreno and Moreno is giving it right back to the quarterback.
In the pivotal moment of Denver’s latest win, Manning and Moreno were debating how to execute what the Broncos call “First Down, Fall Down” — another in the dozens of scenarios the meticulously prepared Manning runs through with the Broncos, starting in the spring and continuing throughout the season.
In this case, it was “First Down, Fall Down” with a twist. With the game tied at 48 with 1:40 left, the Broncos had third-and-inches from the Dallas 1. What Manning was imploring Moreno to do was gain a few inches, but to fall down before he reached the end zone.
“I was asking him, ‘How? How am I supposed to do that?’” Moreno said of the animated discussion at the line of scrimmage. “He was like, ‘Just do it.’ And that was it.”
A delicate task, indeed, but Moreno got it done, busting through the line, then plopping down at the half-yard line. Dallas used its last timeout. The Broncos ran the clock down to 2 seconds and kicked the winning field goal, never giving Tony Romo a chance to add to the 48 points and 506 yards passing he had already amassed.
“We were well aware that could be a possibility,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “The situation where it’s third-and-1, it’s harder than if it’s third-and-8 and you bust a run to fall down. Our guys executed it well.”
It’s this sort of attention to detail that makes Manning so good in all things big and, in this case, small.
Though he’s always looking ahead — in this case, to Sunday’s game against Jacksonville — Manning was asked during his weekly Wednesday news conference about the play that essentially sealed Denver’s 16th straight regular-season victory.
“A unique situation,” Manning called it. “We work on situations in training camp. I’ve never quite had that one simulated before but I thought it was good we did that. I thought we played it just right.”
After five weeks, Manning has 20 touchdown passes and the Denver offense has scored 230 points, both the best marks in NFL history for the first five games. He’s preparing for the 0-5 Jaguars, who have put up as many points all season (51) as Denver did last week. Manning, of course, doesn’t overlook the Jaguars or his own team’s flaws.
“Too many penalties, turned it over twice, and those are things that will get you beat,” Manning said.
They made up for it with picture-perfect execution when the stakes were high and the margin of error was slim.
“We certainly had our plan,” Manning said.
Broncos fans with long memories will recall 1998, when Denver got the winning score in its Super Bowl win over Green Bay after Packers coach Mike Holmgren instructed his defense to let Terrell Davis walk in from the 1 for the winning touchdown so Brett Favre would get the ball back with 1:45 to play. The Broncos ended up stopping Favre to seal the 31-24 victory.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett considered a similar strategy but decided against it, saying if the Cowboys could have held the Broncos to a field goal, they would’ve had a much better chance of winning.
The website www.advancednflstats.com has done extensive analysis of these scenarios and said that while the Cowboys’ chances of winning were slim either way, they would have had a better chance had they let the Broncos score the touchdown shortly after Romo’s pick gave them the ball on the Dallas 24 with 1:57 left.
As it turned out, there was no stop, no touchdown and no chance for the Cowboys’ offense.
Moreno said he could have scored the touchdown on the pivotal third-and-inches play. Instead, his best run on a day in which he gained 93 yards was one he kept to about 6 inches.
“We work on the ‘First Down, Fall Down’ kind of thing,” Moreno said. “Usually in the middle of the field, you can fall down easily. You don’t usually deal with it on that kind of spacing.”
Notes: Three starters on the Broncos’ defense missed practice Wednesday: DE Robert Ayers (shoulder), LB Wesley Woodyard (neck) and CB Chris Harris (concussion). ... The Broncos have a 3-5 record lifetime against Jacksonville and have lost four of the last five, all when defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio coached the Jags.