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Peyton Manning crashes to Earth in loss to Falcons

Peyton Manning's first two games with the Denver Broncos have played out like one of those old "Choose Your Own Adventure" books.

Week 1 was the happy ending. Manning operates like a surgeon out of the no-huddle, generates four consecutive scoring drives and topples a conference rival in front of an adoring home crowd.

Week 2 was the darker timeline. Manning looks confused, his passes float in the secondary, the opposition celebrates turnover after turnover as the road crowd finds delight in his failings.

Manning has had worse games in his career (a six-interception effort against the San Diego Chargers in 2007 springs to mind), but he's never had a uglier start than Monday night's 27-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome. He threw three picks in the Broncos' first three possessions, leading to 10 points for the Falcons.

"I'd obviously like to have all three of them back," said Manning, who finished 24 of 37 for 241 yards and one touchdown. "Just three bad decisions. ... When I see the film, I'm sure I'll see someone open short underneath on the check down."

Manning and the offense eventually righted the ship, but it was too late by then. The Broncos couldn't get the stop they needed late in the fourth quarter, and Manning tasted defeat for the first time since the Indianapolis Colts fell to the New York Jets in 2010 playoffs.

Manning has done his best to temper expectations throughout this process, cautioning even after his killer performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers that he remains a work in progress. He wasn't being modest.

Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @danhanzus.

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