- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 18, 2012

ENGLEWOOD, COLO. (AP) - Even while he was trying to tamp down expectations, Peyton Manning couldn’t have envisioned this scene playing out.

Three times, the Broncos quarterback dropped back to pass. Three times, he threw into a seam near the numbers down the right side of the field.

Three times, a defensive back followed Manning’s eyes, cut over and turned whatever small opening the quarterback had seen into an interception.

All that in the first quarter alone. Those early interceptions against Atlanta on Monday night matched the most turnover-riddled quarter of football Manning has played in his 15-year career. They put Denver into too big of a hole to dig out of in what turned into a 27-21 loss.

Asked after the game if the interceptions had more to do with his surgically repaired neck or his decision making, Manning wasted no time.

“Decision making,” he said.

But there was some zip missing on some of those intermediate-distance passes and there were a few wobblers mixed in there, as well, including on his lone touchdown pass, to Demaryius Thomas near the end of the first half.

Coach John Fox said Manning was not on the injury report when the team returned home Tuesday. Certainly, though, the Broncos would love to avoid putting him in these situations on a regular basis.

Faced with the early deficit and forced to drop back to pass 40 times, Manning was sacked three of those times and hit six more, including once when Falcons linebacker John Abraham grabbed the inside of the back of his jersey and yanked him down from behind.

Manning finished 24 for 37 for 241 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions. His quarterback rating: 58.5. Clearly not what the Broncos were thinking when they landed the most coveted free agent in the history of the league.

“Really, three poor decisions, three throws into coverage,” Manning said. “I just have to be able to eliminate those.”

He did, of course, settle down and rally the Broncos to within a score at the end.

Not surprising, then, that unlike last season, when Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow were the Broncos starters, this bad performance isn’t triggering a full-scale analysis of what’s right and wrong with the quarterback position in Denver _ at least not from the coach.

“I think there’s a couple of throws he’d like to have back or maybe to have gone a different direction,” Fox said. “But when you have that job title as quarterback, it’s not any easy job, for sure. But it wasn’t about one guy.”

Indeed, the Broncos had other problems.

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