- Associated Press - Monday, September 17, 2012

ATLANTA (AP) - Tony Gonzalez caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan in the second quarter to help the Atlanta Falcons take a 20-7 halftime lead over struggling Denver quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos on Monday night.

With 6 seconds left before halftime, Demaryius Thomas caught a 17-yard TD pass from Manning to cut the lead to 20-7. Broncos coach John Fox successfully challenged that Thomas got both feet down on the left side of the end zone, and the play was reversed in Denver’s favor.

A week after Manning won his Denver debut with a home victory over Pittsburgh, the Broncos had turnovers on four on their first five possessions.

Manning was picked three times on his first eight attempts. The last time he threw three interceptions in the first quarter was in Indianapolis’ 23-21 loss at San Diego on Nov. 11, 2007.

It was an uncharacteristic prime time start for the four-time NFL MVP, who began the night with an 11-3 career record on Mondays.

Gonzalez, the league’s career-leading tight end and second career-leading receiver, was uncovered in the back of the end zone when Ryan spotted him open on a crossing route with 4:45 left in the second quarter.

On the game’s third play from scrimmage, Manning threw into triple coverage to Jacob Tamme, but Falcons strong safety William Moore stepped in front of the tight end for an interception.

Moore ran down the left sideline 33 yards before Orlando Franklin tackled him at the 1.

Falcons running back Michael Turner ran twice over the left side of the line before jumping over a stack of Atlanta and Denver linemen to cross the ball over the goal line for a 7-0 lead with 13:20 left in the first quarter.

The Broncos ran two plays before Manning faked a play-action handoff and threw down the right seam to Eric Decker, but free safety Thomas DeCoud picked him off for a 15-yard return.

After Julio Jones dropped what would have been a 19-yard touchdown pass from Ryan in the left corner of the end zone, Matt Bryant followed with a 37-yard field goal to make it 10-0 at the 9:46 mark.

Manning’s third pick went to Robert McClain, a reserve cornerback who was taking his first snap because Asante Samuel injured his neck on the previous play.

Atlanta nickel cornerback Christopher Owens left the game just a few seconds later with a head injury and was not expected to return.

Samuel returned to the field on Denver’s next possession, whiffing on Willis McGahee’s 31-yard run, but stopping Tamme 1 yard short of a first down to force a punt two snaps later.

On the next-to-last snap of the first quarter, Atlanta linebacker Stephen Nicholas forced a fumble by Knoshown Moreno near the Denver sideline and Sean Weatherspoon recovered for Atlanta.

A scrum began after the Falcons were awarded the ball.

Fox was on the field trying to restore order as players from both teams shoved each other.

As Samuel was walking away, Broncos guard Zane Beadles ran into him and knocked him down.

Samuel quickly jumped up, and Atlanta defensive end Ray Edwards appeared to throw a punch at a Denver player.

Manning had a 31.2 passer rating in the first quarter.

On Sunday, Manning’s brother, Eli, threw three interceptions in the first half then rallied the New York Giants to a 41-34 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After Moreno’s fumble, the Falcons ran 10 plays before Bryant kicked a 42-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead.

The Falcons were trying to snap a six-game losing streak on Mondays, including 0-3 under coach Mike Smith.

Their last Monday win came over New Orleans on Dec. 12, 2005.

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