Peyton Manning (18) of the Denver Broncos rushes for a touchdown untouched by the Dallas Cowboys defense during the first half of action at AT&T Stadium. The Denver Broncos visit the Dallas Cowboys. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos have been scoring points at a record pace this season, but in the final minutes of Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, all Manning wanted was to stay out of the end zone.
As the Broncos prepared for their most important run play of the season, Manning and running back Knowshon Moreno stood in the huddle, arguing.
With the way Tony Romo had played through most of four quarters, throwing for 506 yards and five touchdowns in perhaps the best game of his career, Manning didn't want to risk the chance that Romo would get the ball for even one more second.
"You can't, you can't, you can't score," Manning said.
In a year-and-a-half as Manning's teammate, Moreno knew this was an argument he would lose. When Manning gives an order, there is no negotiating -- even if that meant pushing himself through a pile of gigantic defensive linemen for a yard-and-a-half but stopping himself short of the end zone.
"I was just confused of how to do it," Moreno said. "And he was like, 'Just do it!'"
Indeed, Moreno got just enough yards for the first down, allowing Manning to milk the final 93 seconds before Matt Prater's 28-yard field goal gave the Broncos a 51-48 win in their first close call of the season.
The Broncos improved to 5-0, joining the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs as the remaining unbeaten teams, but Manning needed a whole slew of new tricks to do it, like a shovel pass touchdown to tight end Julius Thomas, and even a 1-yard touchdown of his own on a naked bootleg in the second quarter.
With the Broncos lined up in their jumbo goal line package, with three tight ends and with a defensive tackle playing fullback, Manning didn't tell anyone -- not his offensive linemen and not Moreno -- that he was going to keep the ball for an easy stroll to the left side of the end zone. It was his 18th rushing touchdown of his career - matching his father Archie Manning's career total - but his first since 2008.
"The key is, you want to do it about every five years or so," Manning deadpanned. "I'll be retired by the time I'm able to do it again."
That touchdown was one of five scores Manning was responsible for Sunday, along with four more touchdown throws, bringing his season total to 20.
Yet for most of the Sunday's game, he wasn't the best quarterback in the stadium.
Watching Romo throw for 506 yards and five touchdowns had to be exactly what Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had envisioned earlier this year when he challenged Romo to be more like Manning.
For nearly 58 minutes, Romo was nearly perfect as he tore up a battered Denver defense - until a fateful interception with under 2 minutes remaining.
The Broncos, already playing their fifth game without suspended pass rusher Von Miller and injured cornerback Champ Bailey, lost two of their best remaining players to injuries in the first half, when linebacker Wesley Woodyard suffered a shoulder injury and cornerback Chris Harris was diagnosed with a concussion.
The Broncos, despite finishing the game with four sacks, weren't able to pressure Romo much, and had no solution for covering tight end Jason Witten or receiver Dez Bryant, who combined for 13 catches, 262 yards and three touchdowns. Rookie Terrance Williams also scored on a quick-strike 82-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the third quarter as the Cowboys showed they wouldn't fold in the second half -- unlike Denver's first four opponents.
"We played terrible, and he played great," Denver safety Duke Ihenacho said.
But what Cowboys fans will likely remember about Romo from this game aren't the touchdowns, but his lone mistake - the interception that gave the ball back to Manning with 117 seconds left in a tie game.
Romo tried to lace a pass down the seam for tight end Gavin Escobar, the same throw he hit for a big gain earlier in the game, but this time Denver linebacker Danny Trevathan had the right end covered. Trevathan made a diving catch - and the biggest defensive play of Denver's season so far.
"The kid made a good play," Romo said. "I didn't put it exactly where I need to. It's frustrating."