DENVER -- Two of the biggest questions surrounding the Denver Broncos for much of this season have been what the team, with a championship-worthy defense, would look like if its offense simply cut down on the turnovers and had some kind of functional run game.
The Broncos, utilizing more two-tight end looks against a Packers defense that came into the night leading the league in scoring defense, powered out 160 yards rushing and three rushing touchdowns, two from Ronnie Hillman and one from C.J. Anderson.
Through the first six games of the season, Broncos coach Gary Kubiak had steadfastly maintained most of the offense’s difficulties would dissipate quickly if the Broncos could eliminate their turnovers and kick-start a running game that had averaged just 3.6 yards per carry coming into Sunday.
It turns out those weren’t empty words, as quarterback Peyton Manning, who came into the night with 10 interceptions -- tied for the league lead after six games -- had 212 yards passing by halftime and 340 yards by the finish. Manning also wasn’t sacked, and other than a diving interception by Packers cornerback Damarious Randall in the fourth quarter, he kept the offense out of trouble and moving against the Packers.
"The thing I've said all along is I have a vision, I think, of what we can become," Kubiak said. "We've got a long way to go, but I see the work. We're settling down with what we're doing, and if we can stay healthy, me and [No.] 18 working together going forward, I've seen those things. They've stayed the course, they keep battling, and they're never satisfied."
In the end, the win had a playoff look to it. Manning tied the all-time wins record for a starting quarterback -- with Brett Favre, at 186 -- and pushed the Broncos to 7-0 for the first time since their 12-0 start in 1998, the year the team won its second Super Bowl.
What were they thinking?: It was partly a result of the Broncos' productive run game, but the Packers elected not to blitz Manning all that often, and it didn’t go well. Manning had been blitzed on 38 percent of his attempts this season coming into Sunday. But the Packers dialed things back in the rush early in the game and chose to blitz Manning on just two of his first 14 dropbacks. With that, the Broncos built a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.
"That's Peyton Manning back there," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "When he has time, when he can look you over, he's going to do what he did. He's been great, and he's great right now."
One reason to get excited: There were plenty of reasons in this matchup of heavyweights, but the Broncos defense continues to show it has answers for whatever an offense wants to try against it. The Packers tried to bulk up the formation at times and open things up and spread out in others, and the Broncos simply adapted and showed their team speed all over the formation. Aaron Rodgers had 70 yards passing by the end of the third quarter, and the Broncos repeatedly pounded him in the pocket. The Broncos sacked Rodgers three times, and the Packers finished with just 140 total yards.
"If people don't think we're the No. 1 defense now, I don't know what to say," Harris said. "We showed what we're about, what we can do. And we know we have a long way to go, a lot of games left to play. We think we can be even better."
One reason to panic: This wasn't the night to find many blemishes, but there were moments, albeit few and far between, when the Packers did find a crease or two while running directly at the middle of the Broncos defense. But again, that wasn’t much for the Packers to hang their hats on, given that the Broncos led wire-to-wire.
Fantasy watch: Demaryius Thomas coming out of a bye week is becoming a safe play. Last season, when Thomas had five drops in the first three games of the season, he emerged from a Week 4 bye with 226 yards receiving against the Arizona Cardinals. This time around, he emerged from a Week 7 bye with his best performance of the season: eight catches for 168 yards.
"We had the bye, and I just wanted to make sure I had a big game," Thomas said. "I want to finish the season like that. That's what I look forward to from here on out."
Ouch: Linebacker Von Miller briefly left the game in the first half with cramps, but he returned on the next defensive series. Hillman left the game for a series in the third quarter because of a thigh injury. But after jogging on the sideline and a brief discussion with trainers, Hillman returned to the lineup and finished the game.
Flag night: They were in a noisy home stadium, which neutralized much of Rodgers’ ability to use a hard count to draw the Broncos’ defense offside. However, the Broncos still saw the flags fall their way plenty. They committed 11 to the Packers' two, and several of the Packers’ biggest plays on a dominant night for the Broncos’ defense came as a result of penalties, including three of the Packers' 14 first downs.