As tempting as it is to say Peyton Manning’s back, it’s also unnecessary.
He doesn’t have to be the Old Peyton to work as the quarterback of the Denver Broncos.
Whether it’s with Jake Delhomme, Matt Moore or Tim Tebow, Broncos coach John Fox has shown he can win games, including playoff games, without having an elite quarterback. And Manning looks comfortable not having to live up to his own, perhaps impossible standards.
Manning might not have been like the pre-neck surgery Manning, but he was certainly good enough in his first start to make you think he can approach it.
He finished 19-of-26 passing for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the Broncos’ 31-19 win over the Steelers.
Manning worked it fast and he worked it slow, looking sharp on long drives and the shortest ones.
His 12-play, 80-yard no-huddle drive in the second quarter brought back memories of his healthy days in Indianapolis.
But his quick-strike touchdown in the third quarter after an hour on the sidelines showed how his knowledge of the game exceeds the strength of his arm. He read blitz, and got it out quickly to his hot read Demaryius Thomas, and let the young legs do the rest for 71 yards.
There was nothing about any of the particular throws that caught your eye. But the way he conducted the orchestra was masterful, and exactly what the Broncos were looking for.
So it doesn’t matter if he’s Old Peyton. Any Peyton is enough.
Here are five other things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. He was going to be overshadowed regardless.
But Ben Roethlisberger is still pretty good at this too.
His ability to extend plays makes him as dangerous as any quarterback in the league on third down, and there were multiple instances of that on display.
He’s still learning Todd Haley’s system, but when those two get on the same page, the Steelers should be fine.
2. Running back Knowshon Moreno scored the first touchdown, but there are things he’s going to have to get better at if he’s going to have a big role in Denver.
Moreno’s not great in pass protection, and an early whiff led to a shot on Manning.
That’s the kind of thing they can’t afford, having gone all-in on an old guy with a bad neck. Moreno’s talented enough to make a difference, but they won’t be able to withstand such lapses too often.
3. Mike Tomlin is a good coach.
Mike Tomlin made the same mistake too many coaches do, chasing two-point conversions before he needed to.
While waiting until you have to have it seems like an easy enough rule to remember, it seems like every coach falls victim to the temptation. Fox did it in a Super Bowl and it backfired there, so hopefully he learned.
4. The Broncos made two moves this offseason which were questioned, but shouldn’t have been.
There were a lot of people asking “Who?” when they drafted defensive tackle Derek Wolfe in the second round. They better learn more about him, because he looks like the kind of active inside rusher Fox loves. Wolfe had a sack in the first half, and has the kind of high-motor game that will make him a favorite of fans and coaches.
And in bringing in cornerback Tracy Porter from New Orleans, the Broncos signed a guy the Saints thought they could upgrade from. He’s had injury issues and isn’t the best tackler, but you can’t question his cover skills. His late interception was the game-clincher, and he gives them someone to keep opponents from simply ignoring Champ Bailey’s side of the field.
5. Isaac Redman got the start, but Jonathan Dwyer is the Steelers back that made a difference, in the absence of Rashard Mendenhall.
Dwyer’s lost weight and looks explosive, even though he didn’t get credit for that touchdown when he nearly Tebowed at the 2-yard line before replays kept the replacement refs from making a huge mistake.
If the Steelers can run more consistently, they’re going to be better able to do the things Haley wants to do.