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Falcons pick off Manning three times, hold on to edge Broncos

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ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons added to what was already one of the biggest questions of the young NFL season: Is Peyton Manning healthy?

Atlanta picked off Manning three times in the first half Monday and survived a late Denver rally for a 27-21 win in front of a raucous crowd at the Georgia Dome.

Matt Ryan threw two touchdown passes, one to Tony Gonzalez and the other to Roddy White for the 100th scoring strike of his career.

The Falcons (2-0) ended a six-game losing streak on "Monday Night Football" and improved to 7-0 at home in September under coach Mike Smith. Atlanta is the only undefeated team in the NFC South.

The loss leaves the Broncos (1-1) having to answer questions about the health of their quarterback. Manning missed 20 months recovering from a neck injury that ultimately led to his departure from the Indianapolis Colts and generated concerns about deteriorating arm strength.

All three of his interceptions came on late throws deep over the middle against a Falcons secondary that was missing All-Pro corner Brent Grimes. Deep throws were few and far between after his third pick.

The Falcons picked off Manning on two of his first four pass attempts, the first setting up Michael Turner's 1-yard dive that put Atlanta up 7-0 less than two minutes into the game.

"We were able to disguise our coverages very well," Smith said. "That was something we worked on all week. (Manning) made some throws that we were able to make plays on."

William Moore, Thomas DeCoud and Robert McClain intercepted Manning passes in the first half. However, twice the Falcons had to settle for Matt Bryant field goals after takeaways, keeping Denver in the game.

Atlanta went up 20-0 midway through the second quarter, with Ryan scrambling to his right and finding Gonzalez wide open in the back of the end zone on a 1-yard pass.

"Anytime you go on the road and you throw three interceptions to put your team in a hole, to put our defense in a hole and give Atlanta great field position, it's disappointing," Manning said. "Just got to protect the ball better. No excuses for me. Poor decisions. I threw the ball into coverage. We battled back and had a chance, but in the end, I put our team into too big of a hole."

Manning finally got the Broncos in the end zone right before half, when he connected with Demaryius Thomas for a 17-yard touchdown on third-and-goal with six seconds left in the second quarter.

The Falcons went up 27-7 on Ryan's 4-yard touchdown toss to White, who had his 29th career 100-yard receiving game.

The Broncos answered with 14 consecutive points on a pair of short Willis McGahee touchdown runs, and they were down just 27-21 with three minutes to play. McGahee had 113 yards on 22 carries.

Ryan responded with a clock-killing drive, hooking up with Julio Jones for a big third-down conversion.

Ryan finished 24 of 36 for 219 yards. White caught eight passes for 102 yards.

Manning didn't turn the ball over in the second half. Overall, he completed 24 of 37 passes for 247 yards and the three interceptions.

"I'd obviously like to have all three of them back," Manning said. "Just three bad decisions. I'm sure when I see the film, I'll see someone open short underneath on the check-down."

The three-hour, 27-minute game featured 18 penalties, multiple officials' reviews and a fight between the teams near the Broncos' sideline.

"It felt like four hours and 28 minutes," Smith said with a laugh.

The Falcons head to 2-0 San Diego next week, looking for their first 3-0 start in Smith's five seasons.

It doesn't get any easier for the Broncos, who return home to host the 2-0 Houston Texans.

NOTES: The last time Manning threw three interceptions in the first half came with Indianapolis against San Diego in 2007. He ended up with a Colts record six interceptions in the game. ... Manning moved past his boss, Broncos' executive vice president of football operations John Elway, and into third place on the NFL's all-time list for pass attempts. ... The first quarter took more than an hour in real time. ... Denver starting right guard Chris Kuper was inactive. Manny Ramirez started in his place. ... The Falcons' Dunta Robinson got the start at corner in place of Grimes, who was lost for the season after tearing his Achilles in last week's win at Kansas City. ... Atlanta starting cornerback Asante Samuel suffered a neck injury in the first quarter and had to leave the game. Samuel returned in the second quarter. ... Falcons cornerback Chris Owens suffered a head injury in the first half and did not return.

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