DENVER — Peyton Manning sure didn’t need Wes Welker in this heart-pounding opener. Manning threw three touchdown passes to tight end Julius Thomas in the first half, and the Denver Broncos held on to beat the Indianapolis Colts 31-24 on Sunday night.

In his second try, Manning beat his old team and joined Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks to beat each of the current 32 NFL franchises.

The Broncos raced out to a 24-0 lead thanks to Thomas, then turned to their revamped defense to fend off a furious comeback attempt by Andrew Luck, who was working wonders behind a patchwork offensive line.

Luck brought the Colts within a touchdown when he found Hakeem Nicks for a 9-yard scoring strike with 3:26 remaining. But Indy’s last drive stalled at midfield when rookie Bradley Roby broke up a fourth-and-6 pass to Reggie Wayne.

Welker is serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs. But if there’s an offense that can weather the loss of a premier receiver, it’s the Broncos.

Thomas hauled in a 3-yard touchdown toss with Jerrell Freeman draped on him. Then he weaved his way for a 35-yard score with D’Quell Jackson in pursuit. Finally, he beat finally beat LaRon Landry on the line for a 5-yarder.

Early in the fourth quarter, the Colts had three defenders focused on Thomas when running back Montee Ball bulled his way in from 3 yards out to make it 31-10.

Manning finished 22 of 36 for 269 yards.


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