DENVER — The Denver Broncos were running up and down the field at breakneck speed, taking an incredible 49 snaps in the first half. Yet, Alec Ogletree felt like things were moving in slow motion.
“I had a great week of practice and each week I’ve been trying to get the game to be a little bit slower. So this week, the game was definitely a lot slower for me,” Ogletree said after starring in St. Louis’ 27-26 loss to Denver in a preseason game Saturday night.
The rookie linebacker ruined Ronnie Hillman’s night with a strip-and-score takeaway and kept Peyton Manning from turning all those passes into points with a big interception.
Wrapped up by Cortland Finnegan, Hillman turned his back to his tackler, exposing the ball. Ogletree ripped it from his arms, scooped it up and trotted 13 yards for the score one week after Hillman’s fumble at the goal line was returned 106 yards for a touchdown in Seattle.
“I still have great confidence,” in the ground game, Broncos coach John Fox said. “I personally thought his progress was stopped.”
So did Manning, but the whistle wasn’t blown.
“They didn’t call it, so I guess that wasn’t the call,” Manning said. “It wasn’t an easy play by any means when they hold you up. It’s not the most ideal position to be in. So, good play by them and Ronnie will learn from it and I think he’ll be better for it.”
Manning completed 25 of 34 passes for 234 yards in one half, but Ogletree’s pickoff just before halftime set up Greg Zuerlein’s 58-yarder field goal that gave the Rams a 20-10 lead at the break.
“I’m not sure I wouldn’t have thrown that 99 times out of 100,” Manning said. “That guy made a pretty athletic play. That guy’s got long arms, obviously got a pretty wide wingspan. I was surprised he was able to get his hands on the ball.”
Ogletree also had a half-dozen tackles and two pass breakups in his breakout preseason performance.
The backups played through a driving rain in the second half, Lance Ball’s 5-yard TD run with 3:43 left proving the difference.
Despite Manning’s gaudy statistics, big blunders by the backfield and special teams hurt the Broncos.
After Ogletree’s fumble return gave St. Louis a 17-7 lead, rookie Montee Ball, trying to unseat Hillman as Denver’s featured running back, dropped a wide-open pass from Manning at the Rams 13 as the Broncos settled for a field goal.
“I got too antsy. I smelled the end zone and I took my eyes off it for a second to find the defenders,” Ball said. “But you’ve got to catch the football first.”
Ball’s 1-yard TD run against backups in the third quarter made it 20-17.
After allowing a TD kickoff return of 107 yards at Seattle, the Broncos watched Tavon Austin scoot 88 yards before punter Britton Colquitt corralled the electric rookie at the 3. They also had a field goal attempt blocked.
Sam Bradford followed Austin’s big return with a strike to Jared Cook for a quick 7-0 St. Louis lead. He finished 9 of 16 for 110 yards.
Denver tied it at 7 when Manning rolled right on fourth-and-1 from the 6 and hit Demaryius Thomas in the back of the end zone. The Broncos stalled at the Rams 16 on their next drive and T.J. McDonald got a hand on Matt Prater’s 34-yard field goal try.
Ever the pragmatist, Manning donned his helmet and glove on his right hand and threw several passes on the sideline during a driving rain in the fourth quarter.
“No, he had no intentions of going in,” Fox said. “He was just practicing his wet-ball mechanics.”
Von Miller, the Broncos’ All-Pro linebacker who is facing a long suspension for violating the NFL’s drug-abuse policy, played at defensive end the entire first half, and Fox plans on playing next week, too, when most of the starters sit.
“The league suspended him six games,” Fox said. “I wasn’t going to suspend him for eight.”
The Rams wrap up the preseason against Baltimore.
“I think it’s been a blessing this preseason for us because we’ve gotten to play against Aaron Rodgers last week, Peyton this week and we get Joe Flacco on Thursday,” Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis said. “We have a young secondary, so I think it gives our guys a chance to play against the best.”