- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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DENVER -- In the growing avalanche of numbers, career bests and team records pouring down the east side of the Continental Divide four games into this Denver Broncos season, there is one thing that is both staggering for even the most die-hard Broncos fans and gut-wrenching for even the most glass-half-full people still on the schedule.
Denver is averaging a league-leading 44.8 points per game, but no, that’s not the one.
Peyton Manning has thrown 16 touchdown passes without an interception, but that’s not it either. Manning has completed 75 percent of his passes, Wes Welker has six touchdown catches -- as many as he had all of last season -- and Trindon Holliday has two touchdown returns.
But, no, no and no.
The scary thing is that there just may be more in there, more to come. Consider that Manning didn’t throw a touchdown pass in the first quarter of the season opener, that he sat out the fourth quarter of the Broncos’ 52-20 scorched-earth win over the Philadelphia Eagles and that there was a span of roughly 12 minutes in the first half Sunday when Manning was on the sideline as the Broncos' defense was on the field because of Holliday’s 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
So, that’s just under three quarters’ worth of football off the table, meaning that Manning has essentially thrown 16 touchdown passes in 13 quarters. Yes, 16 touchdowns in just over 13 quarters, and you don’t need a slide rule to know that’s in the area between ridiculous and historic.
And if linebacker Danny Trevathan had not tossed the ball aside too quickly on a touchdown that was negated in the season opener because of the ill-advised celebration after an interception return, the Broncos would be the highest-scoring team over the first four games in NFL history.
Asked if he ever had a stretch like Manning is having now, Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway, a pretty fair passer in his day, said, "No, because no one has."
Even John Fox, a noted practitioner of the various ways to say "stay in your lane" or "one game at a time," is having a difficult time keeping a lid on how things are going at quarterback. Given yet another chance to drop the word "greatest" or "best" into a sentence about the Broncos’ 4-0 start, Fox said:
“We’re a quarter into it, I’m one of those guys who would probably be understated and overproduce. We’re not anywhere near done with our body of work, we’re only a quarter of the way into it. I’m pleased with where we are, truth be told you can’t be any better than 4-0 after four games, so we’ll try to continue to prepare and do the things necessary to get ready for each week, including Dallas this week."
Then asked if he could understate what Manning has done with the offense so far, Fox simply smiled.
"Again, I’ve said he’s a tremendous quarterback, I don’t think anyone would dispute that," Fox said. "I can state the obvious, but I think everybody here knows that."
And everybody knows the rest after four games. The Broncos have now defeated two read-option teams, the defending Super Bowl champ and a coach who once beat the highest-scoring offense in league history in the Super Bowl. The Broncos have gone fast and they've slowed it down. Their defense has had some lapses in blowout wins, but it grinds teams on third downs -- the Eagles had one three-and-out in three games coming in, but had two Sunday -- and gets to opposing quarterbacks stuck working in Manning’s vapor trail.
And special teams? In four games, the Broncos have scored touchdowns on a punt return, a kickoff return and a blocked punt. You give this team special-teams touchdowns and you’re begging for a spot on the highlight reel.
"We gave up a lot of points and couldn’t stop them," Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin said. "I know [Manning] gets hot and gets going, he got hot on us [Sunday], but like I said earlier in the week, you have to get stops and create turnovers. We didn’t do that."
Misery does love company, as the Raiders didn’t do it, the Giants didn’t do it and the Ravens didn’t do it either. At some point it bears pointing out that those four teams are currently a tidy 4-12. And some will say nobody has dug in yet against the Broncos and forced them to play a roll-up-your-sleeves game with punts flying back and forth and field position at a premium.
Some wonder, almost out of habit or at least with memories of the Broncos’ meltdown on a frigid day last January dancing in their heads, if the Broncos can muscle up to win one on defense and with the run game if needed.
So sure, some question marks remain, with plenty of time -- 12 regular-season games and whatever the postseason becomes -- for those questions to arrive.
"And we know we haven’t done anything yet but get a good start, but I said it before and I’ll say it again right now," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said. "You do what this team has done, you score 37 points in one and over 40 in the other ones, you get to the quarterback, stop people on third down the way we’ve done so far, that’s pretty damn good."
That it is.