ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — He’s shown plenty of arm strength and an ability to bounce back after a hard hit. Now, Peyton Manning and the rest of the Denver Broncos’ sputtering offense need to work out the kinks.
In seven drives with Manning under center, they’ve scored just one touchdown and turned the ball over four times.
“We’re just lucky it’s preseason,” wide receiver Brandon Stokley said. “We’ll get back to work and we’ll work hard, like we’ve worked this whole offseason and training camp, and we’ll get better.”
The good news is that it’s the offense that’s flimsy, not his neck or arm.
Manning is deciphering defenses as well as ever, getting the ball out as quickly as he always has and he almost always makes the right read. He’s completed 67 percent of his passes and the Broncos (No. 10 in the AP Pro32) are moving the chains better than they ever did with Tim Tebow.
Yet, there’s still lots of work to do.
Five months into his comeback in Colorado, Manning’s timing with his targets isn’t where he’d like it to be. And the three teammates he has the most rhythm with — wide receiver Eric Decker and former Colts teammates Stokley and Jacob Tamme — have all made big blunders in the Broncos’ two preseason games.
Stokley rounded out a route that led to an interception at the goal line in Chicago, and Decker and Tamme dropped passes that stalled a promising 2-minute drive inside the Seattle 10.
“It’s frustrating not to be able to finish,” Manning said.
All three of his intended targets took the blame, as did tight end Joel Dreessen for a ball that sailed way over his head and was easily picked off by Seahawks safety Jeron Johnson.
“I’ve got to find a way to make that catch, honestly,” Dreessen said. “I kind of stuck my hand up there and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can reach it.’ I looked like I gator-armed it.”
Manning’s other interception Saturday night came when left guard Zane Beadles failed to engage defensive end Red Bryant, who reached both hands up and deflected Manning’s pass into the arms of linebacker K.J. Wright at the Seattle 9.
Ever the gentleman, Manning upbraided only himself.
“At the end of the day, they’re interceptions,” Manning said. “The quarterback signs the check on every ball he throws. There’s an old saying that the most important part of every play is to possess the ball at the end of that play. That’s the quarterback’s job. I have to do a better job of that.”
So for all those radio callers finding fault with Manning, he’s with you.
“Two interceptions. Two in the red zone, two weeks in a row. Just can’t have it,” Manning said. “Tipped balls, whatever it is. Can’t have it. Got to find a way to protect the ball better, ensure we get some kind of points when we’re down there in the red zone.”
Coach John Fox appreciates that accountability.
“You get in that position and you get the fingers pointed at yourself when things don’t go the right way, that’s kind of the right way to point fingers,” Fox said. “And so, he gets that. I think that’s who he is and that does help spread throughout the football team.”
The Broncos (1-1) hope to clean things up Sunday night against San Francisco (1-1) in what is expected to be Manning’s final dress rehearsal for the Sept. 9 opener against Pittsburgh.
Despite all the hiccups, there are some positives as Manning makes his comeback from a nerve injury in his neck that sidelined him all of last season and led to his departure from Indianapolis in March: he’s completed 20 of 30 passes for 221 yards and on Saturday night, he showed the no-huddle offense at altitude can be the Broncos’ calling card.
Manning played the entire first half and gave the Broncos a 10-9 lead at the break despite three turnovers. He looked great on a 2-minute drive, but that stalled when Tamme dropped a wide-open touchdown pass 6 seconds before halftime following a drop by Decker and a 15-yard penalty on center J.D. Walton.
“You try to get it out of your system before the season starts,” Decker said. “It’s a good time to work out the kinks.”
And to get the chemistry just right.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Stokley said. “We know that, and we’re working hard every day in practice trying to be perfect, and that’s what good offenses do.
“It takes time. We’re trying to get there.”
Notes: The Broncos got a boost Monday when S Quinton Carter (knee, hamstring) practiced for the first time since July 27, rookie LB Danny Trevathan returned from a sprained ankle and CB Tracy Porter returned from an illness.