Peyton Manning is back.
Before a nationally televised audience, Manning delivered a solid effort in his debut with the Denver Broncos. The veteran quarterback helped lead the Broncos to a home victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night, 31-19.
Manning completed 19 passes on 26 attempts, for 253 yards and two touchdowns, and without an interception. More importantly, Manning showed little effects from sitting out the 2011 season with a neck injury. The 36-year-old's transition to a new team has been the focus of intense off-season scrutiny.
Some fans may have been put off by Manning dressed in orange and blue, and not throwing to Reggie Wayne or Marvin Harrison, but Manning's trademark arm strength and tremendous focus were still in full view.
His passes were crisp in the Mile High City, and Manning appeared to have no problems finding receivers. For a quarterback who was subjected to retirement speculation, he showed no signs of fatigue in his first game back after months of rehabilitation.
In the fourth quarter, Manning showed his ability to recover. With just over three minutes remaining, he threw too high to Brandon Stokley to set up a third down. On the very next play, Manning threw a sharp strike to Eric Decker, but the wide out couldn't hold on under tight pressure.
An NBC graphic showed that Manning's throws were just under 50 miles per hour.
Broadcaster Al Michaels described Manning as "the same old Manning," who starred with the Indianapolis Colts for 13 active seasons.
Color commentator Cris Collinsworth said it was a bit of miracle he was playing, and jokingly pegged Manning's effort as "pretty sharp tonight," and later added, "what a performance."
When analyzing his stats, Collinsworth assessed the numbers in relation to his time away from the game, and said, "C'mon, you can't do that."
In one word, former head coach Tony Dungy called Manning's debut as "fantastic." He said this was the same Manning he was used to seeing when they were both with the Colts.
When interviewed by Michele Tafoya after the game, Manning initially deflected talk about his comeback, and shifted to the Broncos' effort in the season opener. Tafoya pressed harder, and Manning eventually had to concede how he felt about his personal effort.
"Obviously, it feels good. It's just one game -- got to keep it in perspective," said Manning.
"I would definitely say it was special."