(Reuters) – Seven touchdown strikes from Peyton Manning helped the Denver Broncos to a 49-27 rout of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Thursday after Colorado lightning had delayed the start of the new NFL season.
The Broncos showed why they are tipped as favorites to replace the Ravens as Super Bowl champions and gained emphatic revenge for a double overtime loss in last season’s divisional playoff clash.
After the kickoff was delayed by 33 minutes because of the weather, Manning shredded the Ravens defense to become just the sixth player to throw seven touchdowns in a match and the first since Joe Kapp in 1969.
“Joe Kapp, number 11 … this was an awesome night,” said Manning, who completed 27-of-42 pass attempts for 462 yards.
“The offensive line did a heck of a job against a great pass rush. Gave me good time.
“Baltimore has got a great defense, we had to be patient. We knew we would get some shots, we were great down in the red zone. Inside the 30 we took some shots and the receivers made some great plays.”
Wes Welker, Tom Brady’s favorite target before moving from New England to the Broncos, looks set to become Manning’s go-to-guy as well and hauled in nine passes for 67 yards and two touchdowns.
Demaryius Thomas and tightened Julius Thomas both had over 100 yards receiving and a pair of touchdown catches.
A fourth round pick in the 2011 draft, Thomas’s career statistics coming into the opener were one catch for five yards. Andre Caldwell scored the other Denver touchdown.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who was rewarded with a six-year $120 million contract after Baltimore’s Super Bowl win, attempted 62 passes but completed just 34 with two touchdowns and a pair of interceptions.
The defending champions drew first blood, Flacco engineering a 10 play, 80-yard drive capped off by two-yard touchdown strike to Vonta Leach.
But in the second quarter Manning and Thomas took the spotlight by hooking up for two scores.
After Chris Harris made a diving interception to give Manning the ball on the Ravens 24, the four-time league MVP made Baltimore pay by finding Thomas, a former college basketball player, streaking down the middle.
The Broncos returned the favor the next series when Welker fumbled a punt inside their two-yard line and Ravens wasted no time converting with Ray Rice racing around the end to retake the lead 14-7.
Before the end of the half Manning found Thomas again for a 24-yard touchdown but Baltimore would go into the break with a 17-14 lead thanks to a Justin Tucker 25-yard field goal.
The second half was all Broncos as Denver outscored the visitors 35-0.
“I learned we’ve got some guys who can compete,” beamed Manning. “Julius Thomas had a couple of awesome touchdown plays and Wes Welker was as good as we thought he was and our defense can answer the bell without some of their top guns.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Nick Mulvenney)