Counting the preseason, the NFL's career touchdown champion has yet to find the goal line in 21 drives.
Thanks to Denver's dazzling defense, he's also celebrating a record 13th season-opening win, 19-13 over the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday in a slugfest Gary Kubiak said "might be the greatest defensive football game I've ever been a part of as a coach."
Manning was 24 of 40 for 175 yards and his four sacks were his most since his emotional homecoming at Indy in 2013. Asked to grade his performance, he said, "I'm going with fair," an assessment that the fans at Sports Authority Field might consider generous judging by their own harsh reactions.
"I think John Elway had like 115 yards and won the Super Bowl one time, so it's definitely possible," Talib said.
Manning managed just 150 net yards, but that was 50 more than Joe Flacco in a game in which neither team ran a play inside their opponents' 20 until 3:50 remained.
"Well, we did have two touchdown passes to the other team," Flacco said. "But other than that, yeah, it was an ugly one. And it wasn't too fun to be a part of."
The ground games weren't much better: Baltimore gained 73 yards, Denver 69, in a grind-it-out game that sent many players limping to the sideline or off on carts. The casualty list included Terrell Suggs (torn Achilles) and line judge Gary Arthur broke a collarbone.
The unveiling of Denver's new mashup offense merging Manning's defensive deciphering skills with Kubiak's run-oriented philosophies was largely a dud - bounced passes, overthrows, four sacks, a false start on No. 18 himself - until, that is, he directed a 17-play drive that ate up 81 yards and almost 11 minutes in the fourth quarter. It ended with Brandon McManus' fourth field goal.
"That's my old team and it was just good to go out there and finally get to hit them," Stewart said.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith's 24-yard pick-6 was Baltimore's only touchdown and Talib responded with a 51-yard interception return for a TD that put Denver ahead for good, 16-13.
Manning was playing behind an O-line with four new players, two of whom made their NFL debut. But he wasn't about to dissect the offense's performance, testily insisting, "no matter how many times you ask it, this is not three different teams we have here. We don't have a Broncos offensive team, a Broncos defensive team and a Broncos special teams.
The only points in the first half came through the uprights with McManus kicking three field goals and joining Greg Zuerlein as the only kickers in NFL history with multiple field goals of 56 yards or more in the same game. McManus was good from 57, 56 and 43 yards, and Justin Tucker kicked a 52-yarder for Baltimore.
"You better be able to win this way in this league," Kubiak said. "It's just too tough a league."
"It's huge," Elvis Dumervil said. "It's hard to replace 55. He's like the heart and soul of this defense and almost this football team."
Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press