How would the Broncos begin the season after reaching the playoffs for the first time since the 2005 season? How would they fare against a team they knocked out of the playoffs in the Wild Card Round? But the most frequently asked question was, would Peyton Manning look like his old self after spending the entire 2011 season on the sidelines following multiple neck surgeries?
The answer to the latter question was a resounding yes. Against the notoriously stingy Steelers defense, Manning completed 73 percent of his throws for 253 yards with two touchdowns. He did not throw an interception.
But Manning's return to the field went far beyond the stats. Manning's night got off to a slow start as the game was scoreless after the first quarter, but with 9:40 to play in the second, Manning implemented the no-huddle offense on a masterful drive in which he completed six of seven passes for 54 yards before handing off to Knowshon Moreno who ran one in from seven yards out for a touchdown. If this reminded you of Peyton in a Colts uniform, it was for good reason.
Between the drive the Steelers had before halftime and the nine minutes of possession they opened the third quarter with, Manning had gone nearly an hour of real time between throws. After completing a nine yard pass to Eric Decker, Manning expertly recognized a blitz coming and threw a quick screen to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas who ran it in for a 71-yard score, the 400th TD pass of Manning's storied career, joining Dan Marino and Brett Favre as the only men to reach that milestone.
After the Steelers answered with a score, Manning took the Broncos on an impressive 80-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard TD pass to Jacob Tamme which put the Broncos up for good. Manning again hit six out of seven throws on the drive and after the score, he fit a ball in a tight spot to Willis McGahee for a successful two-point conversion.
After Tracy Porter put the final stamp on a Broncos victory with a 43-yard touchdown after returning a Ben Roethlisberger interception, the Broncos immediately seemed like a major contender in the AFC.
That is due in large part to the man that many felt the Broncos took a big risk in signing. Yes, Manning had multiple neck surgeries since the last time he stepped on an NFL field and yes, he hadn't played an NFL game in 20 months, but on Sunday night, it wasn't a factor.
Manning looked precise in both his passing and decision making. He read the defense as well as he always has and picked them apart like a surgeon. It was for these reasons that the Broncos organization felt comfortable in staking their future on the 36-year old quarterback.
On Sunday night, Manning met all the uncertainty by proving that not only can he still be a force in the NFL, but he can do so at a very high level.
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