Santa Clara, Calif. — Even Peyton Manning realizes he’s ready for the regular season. Or at least darn close.
Manning threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas and dominated in his two series, leading the Denver Broncos past the San Francisco 49ers, 34-0, on Sunday to spoil the NFL debut at the sparkling $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium.
“It’s been a good start. That’s all it is, though,” Manning said. “We’ve still got some things we have to improve on.”
The 38-year-old Manning, beginning his 17th season after throwing for an NFL-record 55 touchdowns last year, completed 12 of 14 passes for 102 yards and a 120.8 rating. He was 8-for-8 on Denver’s second drive, then backup Brock Osweiler took over and threw for a score and led another touchdown drive in a preseason matchup of the past two Super Bowl losers.
Colin Kaepernick went 5-for-9 for 39 yards in his two series before a sellout crowd at the team’s flashy new digs in the heart of Silicon Valley. Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes beat the Seattle Sounders in the stadium’s first sporting event Aug. 1.
Demaryius Thomas had three catches on Denver’s opening drive, including a 20-yard gain. That gives Thomas 10 receptions for 89 yards in Denver’s two victories against the NFC West’s powerhouses, the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco.
“Coming off last year, losing the Super Bowl like we did, coming into OTAs I think everybody had a different mindset,” Demaryius Thomas said. “You can see it with older guys, new guys. Our main thing was going out and being able to convert, and as a defense stop guys. If we’re going to be stopped, we’re going to stop ourselves.”
C.J. Anderson ran for a 1-yard TD, while Matt Prater kicked a 26-yard field goal and Mitch Ewald added a late 22-yarder. San Francisco’s typically spot-on Phil Dawson sailed two long kicks wide right.
Denver did it on defense, too, getting two interceptions and a fumble recovery and a goal-line stand to end the game. The Broncos recovered another fumble on special teams.
The 49ers lost safety Antoine Bethea to a concussion early in the second quarter.
The Falcons’ revamped offensive line took a major setback when left tackle Sam Baker was ruled out for the year after tearing the patellar tendon in a 32-7 exhibition loss to the Texans.
... Saints quarterback Drew Brees fully participated in practice Sunday for the first time since straining his left oblique muscle two weeks ago.
... Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III returned to practice for the first time since July 25 and could play in Friday’s exhibition game at Detroit.