A weather delay kept fans waiting, but Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos unleashed a storm on the Baltimore Ravens once the game kicked off.
After three punts to start things off, Manning threw a record-tying seven touchdown passes, something no one had done in 44 years, in directing Denver to a 49-27 victory over Super Bowl champion Baltimore on Thursday night in a much-anticipated rematch against the team that ended the Broncos' playoff run in January.
Manning connected with his most prized addition, Wes Welker, and former college basketball player Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas for two TDs each in piling up the most points scored on the Ravens in their 18-year history.
"I don't like excuses but I do think that lightning delay did slow us down," Manning said. "You guys have seen teams break it down: you come up for the team prayer, you put your hands in and you say, 'Broncos on 3,' and you go out to the field.
"We did it three times tonight," Manning said. "We did it, went back and sat down for 10 minutes and came back up again. 'Broncos on 3,' now sit down for another 10 minutes. I know they had to deal with it, too, but it took us a while to get started."
Wearing an orange-and-gray glove like the one he wore on that icy January night the last time these teams met, Manning took a while to get warmed up against a defense that had to replace seven Super Bowl starters.
He ditched the glove when the rain stopped — and then was unstoppable.
"Peyton had an amazing night," Broncos coach John Fox said. "Peyton's had a lot of amazing nights."
Not like this, though.
Manning is the sixth QB in NFL history to throw seven TD passes in a game and the first since Joe Kapp for Minnesota against Baltimore on Sept. 28, 1969.
The others read like a Who's Who of passers who defied the 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust days long before the NFL became so pass-happy: Sid Luckman, Adrian Burk, George Blanda and Y.A. Tittle.
Tom Brady never did it. Nor Brett Favre, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, Steve Young or Terry Bradshaw. Or, for that matter, No. 7 himself, John Elway, who had his binoculars trained on the action from his perch in the luxury seats.
"I felt like we had to keep scoring because Baltimore can score at any time," said Manning, who was 27 of 42 for 462 yards with no interceptions for an off-the-charts quarterback rating of 141.1.
"He's phenomenal. To continue to come out every year and put that kind of performance on for us, it's amazing," Julius Thomas said.
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 hero on that night was Jacoby Jones, who caught a 70-yard TD pass over Rahim Moore with 31 seconds left to tie it in regulation. This time, his night was cut short when he went back to field a punt in the first half and teammate Brynden Trawick plowed into him, sending him to the sideline with a sprained right knee.
"That's an experience problem, he's an inexperienced guy," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
When the teams finally took the field after the long delay, 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 and went into the locker room up 17-14 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.
"It was a pretty good game for a while and it got away from us," Flacco said.
It was such a runaway, the Broncos were throwing away touchdowns by the end. Linebacker Danny Trevathan fumbled his pick-6 just shy of the goal line, pulling a Leon Lett imitation by celebrating too soon and the ball bounced out of the end zone for a touchback instead of a touchdown.
Denver was ahead 42-17 at that point.
"It was just a young mistake," Trevathan said. "It was kind of selfish. I'm going to take full responsibility. I'm going to grow from it."
Manning's seventh TD pass was a blitz-beater that Demaryius Thomas caught in the left flat and raced up the seam for a 78-yard score that capped Manning's big night.
"It didn't seem like that many," Welker said. "You're just sitting there like, 'That was seven?' Because he's so nonchalant about it."
Flacco could only marvel at Manning's seven TDs.
"That's a sweet way to start a season," Flacco said. "You get ahead throwing that many touchdowns. I mean, shoot, he's almost halfway to 20 already."
Demaryius Thomas finished with five receptions for 161 yards, Julius Thomas had five catches for 110 yards and Welker led the way with nine grabs for 67 yards.
Welker is the first receiver to catch TD passes from both Brady and Manning.
He has said he can't compare the two pre-eminent QBs, saying that's like choosing between Michaelangelo and Picasso.
This night was certainly a masterpiece for Manning.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.