DENVER – The Bills held Peyton Manning to 173 yards passing, forced him into two interceptions, even put a halt to his 51-game streak with a touchdown throw. Heck, Kyle Orton, the former Broncos quarterback who lost his job to Tim Tebow, more than doubled Manning in yards.
If only Buffalo had kept those other numbers down — penalties, its own turnovers and missed opportunities — this would've been a day to remember. Instead, Orton and the Bills managed a field goal and a couple desperation touchdowns and fell 24-17 to the Broncos on Sunday.
The defeat hurt them in the wild-card chase and hurt doubly because they slowed down Manning but squandered the opportunity.
"There were no surprises," Bills running back Fred Jackson said. "We watched them on film all week. We knew what they were capable of doing. When you want to beat a good team, you can't have those penalties, those turnovers. That's something we're well aware of."
The Bills (7-6), now in a five-way tie, one game behind the last wild-card teams, had three turnovers.
But it was the penalties that hurt the most. They committed 11 for 98 yards. Two of them nullified interception returns of 60 and 48 yards that would've set them up nicely in Denver territory. The second, a 15-yarder on Corey Graham, wiped out most of Stephon Gilmore's return, which would have given the Bills the ball on Denver's 35 midway through the third quarter with Buffalo trailing 21-3.
Broncos center Will Montgomery dived at Graham's knees while Graham was blocking during the return.
"Oh, it was a killer," Graham said. "For me, it was a killer, too. The guy cut me when I'm trying to block him. They don't call that, though. But they call me for retaliating."
This marked the first time Manning has been held without a touchdown pass since Nov. 14, 2010, meaning Drew Brees will hang onto the record for at least a couple more years.
It also marked the first time since last November in New England that Manning has been held under 200 yards passing. He finished 14 for 20 with a pedestrian passer rating of 56.9. And even though the Bills went without a sack for the first time this season, they kept the Broncos from making backbreaking plays. Manning's biggest completion was a 38-yarder to Wes Welker.
All of which should have lessened the pressure on Orton, the journeyman who beat the Broncos 7-3 when he returned with Kansas City to close the 2011 season, only months after he was benched for Tebow, then traded away.
Orton had 355 yards, most of them after the Bills had fallen behind by three touchdowns in the third quarter. Like Manning, he threw two interceptions. The first came after he'd moved the Bills inside the Denver 20 midway through the third quarter, down by 18, when there was still enough time to mount a legitimate comeback.
"Not good enough to beat a good football team," Orton said when asked how he felt he played.
From a pure yardage standpoint, the Bills' defense got more than a passing grade, holding Denver's newest threat on offense, C.J. Anderson, to 58 yards on 21 carries and holding the entire Broncos offense to 306 yards, its lowest output of the season.
Still, Anderson scored all three of Denver's touchdowns. And Buffalo couldn't stop his backup; Juwan Thompson carried it four times for 63 yards, including a 47-yard gain that set up Denver's third touchdown.
Those things hurt. The penalties hurt worse.
Jerry Hughes, a key to Buffalo's recent success on defense, got hit with an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty in the second quarter and spent virtually the rest of the game on the sideline.
Coach Doug Marrone, who blamed himself for setting a bad example with a couple emotional outbursts on the sideline, said Hughes initially was pulled to "calm him down," but said he wasn't aware the fifth-year lineman had barely played after that.
Asked about the penalty, Hughes said he didn't remember what happened. But he took responsibility for a play that defined the day for Buffalo.
"It was self-inflicted," he said. "We have to play better, plain and simple."
Notes: Buffalo's only injury was to S Da'Norris Searcy (hamstring). ... Jackson caught 10 passes for 37 yards and ran for 35. ... The Bills still need one more win for their first eight-win season since 2004. Next up: The Packers at home.
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