DENVER (AP) — Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos waited eight long months, then another 33 minutes, to get the season started.
A record-tying seven touchdown passes — something no one had done in 44 years — made it worth the while.
Connecting with his most prized addition, Wes Welker, former college basketball player Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas for two TDs each, Manning directed Denver to a 49-27 victory over the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night in the NFL opener, a much-anticipated rematch against the team that ended the Broncos' playoff run in January.
Manning is the sixth QB in NFL history to throw seven TD passes in a game and the first since Joe Kapp did it for Minnesota against Baltimore on Sept. 28, 1969.
Manning was 27 of 42 for 462 yards with seven TDs and no interceptions.
All part of a thorough thrashing of the team that put a harsh end to what had looked like a Super Bowl-bound 2012 in Denver. The rematch came nearly eight months after Baltimore beat Denver 38-35 in double overtime on an icy January night in the same stadium.
The Broncos waited all offseason for the rematch, then for 33 minutes more when a lightning storm in the area delayed the start.
When they took the field, it was clear how much had changed.
Pass rusher Elvis Dumervil moved from Denver to Baltimore as part of a bizarre, fax-infused contract squabble. Receiver Brandon Stokley also switched sides. The Broncos lost their best defender, Von Miller, to a drug suspension while Baltimore had to rebuild its 'D' after losing emotional leaders Ed Reed and Ray Lewis.
The Ravens suffered another loss of sorts when they were forced to play the season's traditional opener on the road because of a conflict with the Orioles in Baltimore. The NFL hung a Flacco banner above Denver's stadium, but he hardly felt at home.
Armed with a new six-year, $120.6 million contract, he matched the Broncos score for score in the first half but had to play catch-up after falling behind 35-17 early in the third quarter. His final numbers: 34 of 62 for 362 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.
Manning's seventh TD covered only a few yards in the air but Demaryius Thomas hauled in the pass in the left flat and turned on the jets, racing past several gassed defenders for a 78-yard touchdown that capped the scoring.