CINCINNATI — Peyton Manning’s two interceptions had put the Broncos behind. The four-time MVP was going to need yet another fourth-quarter comeback to pull it out.
No one’s better at it.
Manning stayed perfect against Cincinnati on Sunday, overcoming his two interceptions with three touchdown passes for a 31-23 victory that gave him yet another NFL record that measures calmness under pressure.
His 48th game-winning drive moved him ahead of Dan Marino for the NFL record and showed Denver (5-3) that he’s still got it when everything’s on the line.
“He is special at it,” coach John Fox said.
Especially when he’s playing the Bengals (3-5), who have failed every time they’ve faced him. Manning improved to 8-0 career against Cincinnati, throwing for at least three touchdowns in five of those games.
His two second-half interceptions — one in the end zone, both by cornerback Terence Newman — helped the Bengals pull ahead 20-17 early in the fourth quarter. That’s when Manning and the Broncos have been at their best.
It wasn’t hard for Manning to get past the two bad moments and create more winning ones.
“I’ve been there before,” Manning said. “My dad (Archie) always talked about you’ve got to get back to level zero, erase the play from your mind — a good play or a bad play — and move on to the next one.
“That’s not the scenario we wanted. Anytime you’re on the road and have a chance to put a team away, you want to do it. You don’t want to give a team a little life, which is what we did.”
In the end, it didn’t matter. Denver has outscored its opponents 103-23 in the final quarter, the biggest point differential in the league.
“There’s no panic,” receiver Brandon Stokley said. “That’s what this team is all about.”
Manning threw a 1-yard touchdown to tight end Joel Dreessen that put Denver back ahead. After Andy Dalton underthrew a pass under pressure that was picked off by Champ Bailey, Manning put it away with a 4-yard pass to Eric Decker with 3:36 left.
“He’s a great competitor,” Stokley said. “He is who he is, and it’s what I’ve seen from him for 14 years.”
Manning was 27 of 35 for 291 yards for a passer rating of 105.8. He came up 9 yards short of tying Steve Young’s NFL record of five straight games with 300 yards and three TDs passing.
After a neck injury threatened his career and ended his stay in Indianapolis, Manning has regained his touch with Denver. The Broncos have scored 37, 21, 35, 34 and 31 points in their past five games, winning four of them.
The Broncos also got a team-record 105-yard kickoff return from Trindon Holliday to open the second half.
“I think this team needs to go through different scenarios and have one of these tight second-half games,” Manning said. “The more you can go through it as a unit, the more you can draw on it later in the season. Anytime you can win going through those scenarios, that’s a plus.”
The Bengals came out of their bye week with their season at a turning point. Coach Marvin Lewis went out of character and challenged Dalton and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga to become more vocal leaders, underscoring that things were slipping away.
“Losing is bad,” Lewis said. “We’ve lost four games in a row and we have a hard road to go.”
His quarterback made the game-changing play. Trailing 24-20, the Bengals had two holding penalties and a false start that set up a third-and-25 at their own 18.
As he was about to get hit, Dalton heaved a pass toward A.J. Green that was underthrown. Bailey intercepted at the Cincinnati 46-yard line, giving Dalton an interception in every game this season. The Broncos then put it away with Manning’s third TD pass.
“It’s one of those where you take a shot with A.J. and either he’s catching it or nobody’s catching it,” Dalton said. “I had pressure in my face. I threw it and couldn’t get enough on it — I was getting hit.”
Dalton was under heavy pressure much of the game and finished 26 of 42 for 299 yards with five sacks, one touchdown and the decisive interception. He had a 10-yard touchdown pass to Green, who has caught one in seven straight games. It’s the third-longest such streak in club history.
Notes: Holliday’s kickoff return was the longest allowed by Cincinnati. … Broncos RG Chris Kuper hurt his left ankle late in the third quarter and had to be helped off the field. Fox said X-rays were negative, but more tests were needed. … Decker became the fifth Bronco to catch a TD pass in five straight games. … Bengals first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick was active for the first time and made his debut on the punt team. He hadn’t played because of a knee injury during the summer.