Duel in Jerry World

Manning’s Rocky Mountain juggernaut fends off a remarkable performance from Cowboys’ Romo in classic QB battle

Heading into their Week 5 matchup with the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, the Denver Broncos had taken the National Football League by storm in 2013 with a historically productive offense.

In their first four contests, Bronco quarterback Peyton Manning compiled 1,470 yards passing, 16 touchdowns and completed 75 percent of his passes, directing the Broncos to an average of 44.8 points per game. With receivers Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, along with tight end Julius Thomas, comprising the most versatile unit in the league, Manning toyed with his opposition.

Through four games, the Cowboys displayed middling results and headed into the game at 2-2. While not on the record-setting pace of Manning, Dallas quarterback Tony Romo had established himself as one of the game’s premier signal callers, completing more than 70 percent of his passes for 1,017 yards and 8 touchdowns. 

In addition to Romo, the Cowboys trio of running back DeMarco Murray, receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten could give defenses nightmares when clicking. The Cowboy offense, however, would need to shake off early-season inconsistencies to match the prolific Bronco offense.

Romo led the Cowboys on an 11-play, 79-yard march that culminated in a Bryant 4-yard touchdown catch to put Dallas ahead 7-0. After Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne recovered a Decker fumble inside Denver territory, Romo connected with Witten on two third downs, setting up a 4-yard score by Murray to put Dallas up 14-0.

Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) strides into the end zone as he celebrates his 4 yard reception for a touchdown during first quarter action against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL game at Cowboys Stadium October 6, 2013 | Photo courtesy Denver Broncos

Facing his biggest deficit of the season, Manning found Decker unaccounted for and the receiver raced 57 yards to the Dallas 4. Julius Thomas then scored on a 4-yard touchdown reception to cut Dallas’ advantage to 14-7.

Romo used his scrambling ability to keep plays alive and drove the Cowboys inside the Bronco 5 before stalling and settling for a 43-yard field goal by kicker Dan Bailey to make it 17-7. Denver tailbacks Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman spearheaded the ensuing drive with 58 yards before Manning’s 2-yard toss to Decker pulled the Broncos to within three.

After recovering a Bryant fumble on the next possession, Manning capitalized on the turnover by using Julius Thomas exclusively and eventually found him from 9 yards out to give Denver its first lead at 21-17.

Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) runs a bootleg left with 46 seconds remaining in the second quarter for a touchdown against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL game at Cowboys Stadium October 6, 2013 | Photo courtesy Denver Broncos

After a Dallas three-and-out, the Broncos orchestrated their fourth consecutive touchdown drive that ended with a 1-yard stroll from Manning. After being down 14, the Broncos’ 28-3 run allowed them to take control of the game. A 38-yard Romo pass to receiver Terrance Williams set up a 48-yard Bailey field goal and Denver led 28-20 at intermission.

The Broncos picked up where they left off with a 12-play, 56-yard drive that ended when Manning found Welker from 2 yards out to increase the margin to 35-20 with 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter. In danger of getting blown away, Romo connected with Williams deep over the middle for a 72-yard touchdown to slice the deficit to eight. After finally holding the Broncos to a field goal, Dallas crept closer when Romo found Bryant from 2 yards out to make it 38-33.

On the Broncos’ next drive, Claiborne’s acrobatic interception gave Dallas the ball near midfield. Romo again looked to his safety blanket in Witten and the tight end delivered, scoring on a 10-yard reception that gave Dallas the lead once more. Williams converted a two-point try to extend the Cowboys’ advantage to 41-38.

After Bronco kicker Matt Prater tied the game at 41, Romo connected with Bryant on third-and-6 for 79 yards to the Bronco 4. Receiver Cole Beasley sped past an outflanked Bronco defense on a 4-yard swing pass to give Dallas a 48-41 lead with 7:19 remaining.

Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (27) carries for 14 yards during second quarter action against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL game at Cowboys Stadium October 6, 2013 | Photo courtesy Denver Broncos

Denver tied the game at 48 when Moreno plunged in from 1 yard out, with successive Welker and Demaryius Thomas receptions for first downs aiding the Bronco march.  After Denver linebacker Shaun Phillips sacked Romo on first down, Romo was intercepted by linebacker Danny Trevathan on a pass intended for tight end Gavin Escobar. The Broncos bled  the remaining 1:55 to set up a game-winning field goal by Prater from 28 yards out, securing a 51-48 shootout victory at AT&T Stadium.

Julius Thomas | Photo courtesy Denver Broncos

Manning finished with 414 yards passing and four scores while Romo threw for 506 yards and five touchdowns. Witten, Bryant and Williams all accounted for over 100 yards receiving while Julius Thomas had nine catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns on the day to lead Denver.

The Broncos would go on to break the record for most points in season, becoming the only team in NFL history to amass more than 600. Manning’s 55 passing touchdowns and 5,477 yards set league records for most ever in one campaign.

The Denver offense ran roughshod over the league until the Seattle Seahawks, led by the Legion of Boom, stonewalled the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. Dallas continued its up-and-down season and finished 8-8 for the third consecutive year. H&A

All photos courtesy Denver Broncos 

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