It is difficult to call Manning the difference in a win when the Broncos' Trindon Holliday scored on a 105-yard kickoff return, Von Miller had three sacks, Eric Decker had a monster receiving game and the Denver defense came through with another inspiring performance.
But the Broncos would not have won if Manning were not an experienced quarterback who has been through it all. In this game, he threw two third-quarter interceptions that helped turn a 17-3 lead a few seconds into the third quarter into a 20-17 deficit a few seconds into the fourth quarter.
At that point, Manning was staring at goat horns.
"I've certainly been there before," Manning said. "My dad [former NFL quarterback Archie Manning] always talked about, "You've got to get back to zero.' You've got to erase the play from your mind good play or bad play and move on to the next one."
After throwing those two picks, Manning calmly came back in his next two possessions to throw two, fourth-quarter touchdown passes.
That's keeping it together.
"That's what makes him great," said Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey. "I mean obviously he'd like to have those interceptions back, but you can't fold. I think sometimes when you go through adverse situations, whether or not you can bounce back it says a lot about you."
As for Dalton, the Bengals' talented second-year quarterback, he lost his cool on a play after the Broncos had regained the lead 24-20. There was 9:20 remaining and Dalton had seemingly rescued the Bengals from a third-and-15 with a 19-yard completion to A.J. Green, Cincinnati's terrific receiver, near midfield. But on the play, Bengals' center Jeff Faine was called for holding Miller.
Why wouldn't he? Miller, the Broncos' superb second-year linebacker, already had his three sacks by then. It may well have been four had Faine not held. The penalty turned first-and-10 at midfield to third-and-25 at the Bengals' own 18. Dalton was livid at referee Scott Green for calling the holding penalty. The quarterback unbuckled his chin strap and gave the ref the what for.
On the next play, Dalton was under pressure and mindlessly chucked the ball deep downfield. As he threw, Miller hit his arm which would have given Dalton an excuse for the poor throw except the pressure was another reason why it was a silly attempt.
"I thought so because there's no way he should have thrown it," Bailey said.
Bailey intercepted the heck-with-it throw at the Bengal 46. As he walked off the field, Dalton continued to chew out Scott Green.
Manning took advantage of the field position, connecting with old reliable Brandon Stokley for a third down-converting completion and finished off the short drive with his second of two touchdown passes to Decker. This one put the game away. To Dalton's credit, the holding call was a game-changer all right. But was it the flag thrown by Green or Dalton's reaction to the penalty?
"I had pressure in my face, I threw it and couldn't get enough on it, and was getting hit," Dalton said. "It was unfortunate that it happened at that time."
The Broncos won their third in a row and improved their AFC West-leading record to 5-3.
P Philadelphia at New Orleans6:30 p.m. TV • ESPN