DENVER (AP) — After 611 days away, Peyton Manning couldn't wait to get back on the field. Ben Roethlisberger seemed determined to keep him on the sideline.
Manning overcame Pittsburgh's 10-minute advantage in time of possession and led a hurry-up offense that helped the Broncos beat the Steelers 31-19 on Sunday night in his Denver debut.
"It's just one game. I try to keep it in perspective," Manning said. "I know how hard I've worked to get to this point. I know how much help that I've gotten along the way, from a lot of people. I'm very grateful for that. It's special. I will definitely say it's special."
The four-time MVP coming off four neck surgeries that wiped out his final season in Indianapolis last year completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. He was sacked twice and bounced up both times without trouble.
Manning got a big assist from another big-time free agent, cornerback Tracy Porter, whose 43-yard interception return of Roethlisberger's pass with 2 minutes left and the Broncos clinging to a six-point lead sealed the victory.
"I should've called timeout," Roethlisberger said. "The play clock was running down, I hate to burn timeouts. I should've. We were kind of all over the place.
"There's no one to blame but myself. I already told my teammates and coaches that it's my fault. It's on me. It's disappointing. I hate to let my team down, my coaches, the fans. That loss is squarely on my shoulders. I'll take that and get better and learn from it."
Manning, jettisoned by the Colts in March after missing all of last season with a nerve injury that weakened his throwing arm, took just two snaps in the third quarter. But one was a 71-yard touchdown throw to Demaryius Thomas, Manning's first as a Bronco and the 400th of his career.
He reached the milestone in his 208th career game. Dan Marino did it in his 227th game and Brett Favre in his 228th.
"I love those guys," Manning said. "Brett and Dan are two of my favorite quarterbacks of all time. I don't feel like I belong in their category. But to be sort of mentioned among them is a true honor."
Manning, however, didn't even keep the ball for his trophy case.
"I talked to him after the game and said, 'You're going to let me keep the ball right?' He got one of the game balls, so he gave me that ball," Thomas said. "That's great to be able to catch his 400th. Hopefully he'll sign it for me. I can go back and show my grandkids in the record book."
Manning, who hadn't played in a game that counted since Jan. 8, 2011, spent much of his night on the sideline as Roethlisberger led a clock-chewing offense that had Denver's defenders gassed and Manning antsy as the Steelers converted 11 of 19 third downs.
"That's what Peyton kept saying to me: 'You guys killed us on third down.' We did," Roethlisberger said. "But at the end of the day it doesn't matter when you lose the game."
At one point, Roethlisberger had taken 30 snaps to Manning's one — a kneel-down — during two monstrous drives that spanned halftime.
"Roethlisberger was awesome on third down," Manning said. "Wasn't much fun sitting on the bench there all night. Great job by our defense in the end, getting that turnover."
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said playing keep-away from Manning was the game plan.
"That was our intention," Tomlin said. "We need to possess the ball, we needed to get stops and time of possession is just that, though you look at the scoreboard, they got it done, we didn't. The plan didn't come to fruition."