The Denver Broncos may have lost to the Atlanta Falcons 27-21, but there is a lot that the Broncos can take back to Denver with them as a sign that they are improving as a team. Even Peyton Manning's three interceptions can be a valuable teaching tool. The NFL has a very long season, and tonight's loss is no reason for Broncos fans to be disheartened. In fact, they should be pretty happy ultimately with how the team played as a whole against one of the best teams in the NFC.
Ugly Play By Manning Early Doomed Loss
Yes, Peyton Manning threw three bad interceptions in the first three drives. He admitted in the postgame press conference that the interceptions were more a result of bad judgment than any physical problem than he was having. Manning must have thought that the Falcons' defense was deficient in some way down the field because he kept throwing those long passes into the heart of their secondary. I don't know if he simply didn't see that extra defender that always seemed to be present, but the Falcons had a man in the right spot at the right time, every time, in that first quarter. Despite the fact that Manning rallied the offense in the fourth quarter to make the game close, those three interceptions were too much for the team to overcome in the end. Why is this a good thing? Because Manning was always going to have a game like this, and I'm glad that it's out of the way early in the season. There will be a lot to learn by the entire offense from those bad plays.
Defense Stepped Up When They Were Needed
Overall, I thought that the Denver Broncos played very well despite the final score. They held the Falcons to just 275 yards on offense. When the offense turns the ball over four times in the first half of the game, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense. The first drive by the Falcons started on the Broncos' 1-yard line which still took three plays to convert into a touchdown. The next Manning interception gave the Falcons the ball on the Broncos' 43-yard line. The Denver defense only allowed a field goal on that drive. With the final Manning interception on the very next drive, the Falcons got the ball on their own 47-yard line. The Broncos held them to force a punt. Given how bad the offense played, the fact that the Broncos were only down 10-0 at the end of the first quarter attests to how well the defense played.
Running Game Looks Good
The Broncos ran the ball very effectively against the Falcons. Willis McGahee rushed 22 times for 113 yards and two touchdowns. I was especially pleased how Manning and the coaching staff stuck with the running game in the red zone given how worried I was before the season as to if they would do that when it really mattered. When the Broncos had a 4th-and-goal in the fourth quarter and the game was seemingly on the line, I was happy to see Manning hand the ball off to McGahee for the touchdown that pulled them within six points of the Falcons. For Manning to have the confidence in the offense to run the ball instead of pass at that moment shows that offensive balance is definitely a priority for both him and this team. That confidence will pay huge dividends going forward through the rest of the season.
Julie is a featured NFL contributor for the Yahoo Contributor Network. A lifelong NFL fan, she began to follow the Broncos upon moving to Denver in 2001.