EDITOR’S NOTE: At press time, Denver led Baltimore 21-17 early in the third quarter. For full results from the NFL opener, visit timesleader.com.
DENVER — Justin Tucker hit a 25-yard field goal and the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens led the Denver Broncos 17-14 at halftime Thursday night in the season opener that started 33 minutes late because of lightning.
Ray Rice also had a 1-yard TD run for Baltimore in the second quarter.
Peyton Manning had a big first half, finding tight end Julius Thomas for two touchdowns. Thomas entered the game with no career TDs and just one catch. He had three receptions for 97 yards in the first half.
The third-year player out of Portland State was in uniform despite the revelation earlier in the day of an arrest that occurred last week. Thomas had been stopped for speeding on Aug. 28 and was then arrested for failing to appear in court for a traffic citation earlier this year.
Rice scampered in for a 1-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to give the Ravens a 14-7 lead. Rice’s short TD score was set up when Wes Welker muffed a punt near the goal line, the ball slipping through his hands on a fair catch. Morgan Cox pounced on the ball as Welker tried to haul it back in.
In the opening quarter, Joe Flacco threw a 2-yard TD pass to fullback Vonta Leach.
Manning tied it at 7 in the second quarter when he tossed a 24-yard TD pass to Thomas. That came right after Chris Harris’ diving interception. It was Flacco’s first interception in 210 attempts. Flacco’s last interception also was by Harris.
The Ravens nearly had a special teams breakdown when Jacoby Jones tried to fair catch a punt, only to have a teammate collide with him. But the ball didn’t touch either of the players. It was costly, though, as Jones sprained his knee and was doubtful to return.
A steady drizzle fell on the opening drives and both teams had to punt.
As the rain cleared out, the Ravens went on a 10-play, 80-yard drive in the first quarter that was extended by a 29-yard catch from Torrey Smith on a third-down play.
Flacco was 18 for 30 for 183 yards at halftime. He found Leach in the flat and the burly fullback barreled over linebacker Wesley Woodyard to get into the end zone.
The temperature at kickoff was 83 degrees, a drastic change from when Baltimore and Denver met at Mile High in January for a playoff game. Back then, the temperature was 13 degrees as the Ravens ended the Broncos’ season 38-35 in double overtime.
Just like in the playoff game, Manning wore a glove on his throwing hand for a better grip. He abandoned it in the second quarter.
Manning found his newest target, Welker, four times for 39 yards.
Usually, the Super Bowl champs open at home. But there was a conflict in Baltimore with baseball’s Orioles playing at home and so the game was switched to the Mile High City.
Greeting Broncos fans as they entered Mile High was a gigantic banner of Flacco alongside Manning. The presence of the poster created quite an uproar around town for the last several weeks.
Elvis Dumervil made his return to Denver as a member of the Ravens and was booed when his name was announced. The linebacker was all set to agree on a new deal with the Broncos in the offseason when a fax foul-up prevented that from happening and the team cut him to save money.
Dumervil and Von Miller called themselves “Doom & Gloom” while in Denver, combining combined for 29 1/2 of the Broncos’ league-leading 52 sacks in 2012.
Miller wasn’t on the field, either, as the Pro Bowl linebacker began serving his six-game suspension for violating the league’s drug abuse policy. The Broncos also were without cornerback Champ Bailey, who’s hobbled by a sprained left foot.