Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (19) fires a pass against a strong rush… (Doug Pensinger / Getty Images )
DENVER -- The Denver Broncos lived up to the mile-high expectations of their fans Thursday, and that's saying something.
Peyton Manning threw an NFL-record-tying seven touchdown passes — two each to Julius Thomas, Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas — as the Broncos roasted the Baltimore Ravens, 49-27, exacting a measure of revenge on the team that knocked them out of the playoffs eight months earlier.
"We've all said it enough, but he's a phenomenal football player," said tight end Julius Thomas, who reeled in Manning's first two touchdown passes. "We were joking that it's like Madden [the video game], the only time you get to throw seven touchdowns."
Playing without suspended pass rusher Von Miller and injured cornerback Champ Bailey, Denver's defense put the clamps on the reigning Super Bowl champions, holding them to 10 points in the second half.
The Broncos started slowly, but then again, so did the game. Kickoff was delayed for 33 minutes for lightning as a storm passed over the city. It was somewhat reminiscent of the delay in the last big NFL game, when the lights went out on Super Bowl XLVII.
"We got into a good rhythm," said Manning, who passed for 462 yards and matched Sid Luckman, Adrian Burk, George Blanda, Y.A. Tittle and Joe Kapp with the seven touchdowns. "It took us a while. I don't mean to make excuses, but that rain delay kind of slowed us down."
He said the team traditionally gathers before kickoff and gives a "Broncos on three!" group cheer. They had to do it three separate times Thursday, thinking the delay was about to be lifted.
The opener had the feel of a mini-Super Bowl, complete with Ryan Seacrest warming up the crowd during the pregame ceremonies, although this unquestionably was a one-sided crowd. Sports Authority Field was a rollicking sea of orange, silent only when Denver's offense had the ball.
The game was such a blowout that more than half the crowd had left by the two-minute warning, the fans giddily heading for their cars.
The last time these teams met was a divisional playoff game here in January, when the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees. It was 70 degrees warmer this time when the delayed kickoff finally arrived.
In a sense, there was a 180-degree difference between the two games.
Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones, who forced overtime in the playoff game with a 70-yard touchdown, was knocked out of Thursday's game when, while trying to field a punt, he was toppled by teammate Brynden Trawick, an undrafted rookie who accidentally crashed into him. Jones left the game with a knee sprain.
Broncos safety Rahim Moore, the goat of the playoff game for misplaying the long pass to Jones, rocked tight end Dallas Clark on an over-the-middle pass Thursday, knocking the ball loose on a highlight-tape, tone-setting play. Moore, a former UCLA standout, also forced a fumble.
And Manning, who had two pivotal interceptions in that 38-35 playoff loss, was brilliant, building an instant rapport with Welker, formerly Tom Brady's favorite target in New England.
Welker said Manning was so nonchalant about stockpiling touchdowns that "you're sitting there going, 'That was seven?'"
Both of Welker's scores came in the second half, washing away the sour taste of his first-half blunder. He muffed a punt in the second quarter while trying to fair catch the ball at the 5. The Ravens recovered at the 2 and scored on the next play.
Welker's gaffe was trumped in the fourth quarter by teammate Danny Trevathan, who intercepted a Joe Flacco pass and had a clear path to the end zone, but didn't hang onto the ball securely enough. Untouched, Trevathan fumbled before crossing the goal line, and the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback.
The Broncos, the prohibitive Super Bowl favorites, looked as if they might be in trouble when the Ravens headed to the locker room with a 17-14 halftime lead.
But Manning broke out in the third quarter, twice finding Welker for scores and hitting Andre Caldwell for a 28-yard touchdown.