Manning shows no rust from long layoff

Associated Press Modified: September 10, 2012 at 7:18 pm •  Published: September 10, 2012

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Mike Tomlin needed only two words to describe the guy who ripped apart the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense in the Mile High City.

"He's Peyton," the coach said with a shrug.

He's Peyton Manning — and he's back.

Wearing orange for the first time since his playing days at the University of Tennessee, the former Indianapolis Colts star wasn't about to let a 20-month layoff for neck surgery wreck his opening night debut with the Denver Broncos on Sunday.

Using the no-huddle, the four-time MVP led the Broncos on a trio of 80-yard touchdown drives and kept Ben Roethlisberger's troops guessing until the final whistle in a 31-19 victory.

Manning, who bid a tearful farewell to the Colts on March 7 when they cut him so they could begin anew with Andrew Luck, showed during the preseason that his right arm and neck were plenty strong. This, after missing all of last season with a nerve injury that weakened his throwing arm.

If anyone still wondered about his health six months after he switched teams in the biggest free agent move in NFL history, Manning delivered a resounding answer:

His 71-yard touchdown throw to Demaryius Thomas, Manning's first as a Bronco was also the 400th of his career. Manning reached the milestone in his 208th career game. Dan Marino did it in his 227th game and Brett Favre in his 228th.

"I've seen improvement every time he's gone out, going back to the beginning of preseason" and even before that, coach John Fox said Monday.

"Physically, mentally, him adjusting to new teammates, new coaches, I think he's been tremendous."

Receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Jacob Tamme, who played with Manning in Indianapolis, helped him against Pittsburgh. And neither of them saw anything different in Manning 2.0.

"He has put in so much work that you expect him to come out here and play well," Tamme said.

"Knowing the guy, what kind of competitor he is, I never doubted for once that he would be playing again," Stokley said. "I knew he'd be back."

Manning completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns — and a game ball.

"Hey, it was a great win, it's an honor to play football with you guys," Manning told his teammates in a jubilant locker room afterward. "Unbelievable team effort ... It sure was a great start, let's keep it going."

Manning started his first 277 games of his career, including the playoffs, before turning into a sideline spectator last season.

Despite getting off to a fine start in Denver, Manning insists his rehabilitation and his transition to his new surroundings are both season-long works in progress.

"I'm still feeling my way out, I still have some limitations," Manning insisted. "This team is still forming its identity. As you're feeling yourself out, feeling your team out and you get a win in that process, that's a nice thing."

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