"It's only preseason," was the phrase that was going around and around this offseason as Denver Broncos fans watched new quarterback Peyton Manning shake off the rust in Week 1 versus the Chicago Bears and then toss two interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks.
However, in today's nationally-televised game against the San Francisco 49ers, the Broncos finally got a glimpse at what they paid for when they went all out to acquire Manning just a few short months ago.
Manning turned in a dazzling 10-for-12 performance for 122 yards. A stat line like that gave Manning a quarterback rating of 148.6, something Peyton has done with the Colts dozens of times in the past. Manning also led the team to the first two touchdowns of the offseason, and he was only under center for less than one half of the game.
It's only preseason. None of his crisp passes or touchdowns count in the regular season, which starts exactly two weeks from today (September 9, 2012 at 6:20 p.m. MST) in a marquee Sunday Night Football matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who the Broncos knocked out of last season's Wild Card Round in the playoffs.
While the team lost to the Niners today, the first-team offense, and especially Manning, shined. The team was working together, making plays, moving the chains, and as Manning left the game, the Broncos had a 17-7 lead, dominating against one of the best defenses in the NFL last season.
One of Manning's favorite targets on the day, wide receiver Eric Decker caught both of Manning's TDs, one a strike on a short hook and another a floater to the left corner of the end zone. Decker looks to be Manning's favorite going into the regular season.
Lance Ball, a running back that has been hit or miss for the Broncos in his tenure, had a huge play on a reception down the sideline for 38 yards that put the Broncos inside the red zone early in the game.
Manning had the Broncos offense clicking on all cylinders, as everyone was involved and the ball was delivered on target and on time.
One of the scariest moments of the game came after Manning was knocked down hard by a blitzing Parys Haralson from the linebacker position. The hit came on the same play Ball caught the 38-yard toss from Manning.
However, Manning jumped right back up. He was running to the line to call the next play, and the team and fans could breathe a bit more easily that hits like this during the course of the year will not be a problem.
Hopefully, the missed block by both Zane Beadles at left guard and center J.D. Walton will be a good teaching moment, as Haralson stunted lining up on the outside then shooting right up the middle to knock Manning in the mouth and slam him to the turf. The combo of Beadles and Walton inside is probably the weakest link on the offensive line in pass coverage.
All in all, the preseason tune-up for Manning and the first-team offense was a great showing, and one that has fans excited for the season opener against the Steelers in just a couple of weeks.