Manning glad first game is out of the way
Baby steps, not giant leaps. That’s how Peyton Manning is
marking his comeback. So, he was glad to get his first game in 19
months out of the way and use it as a building block.
Manning was uneven in Denver’s exhibition opener at Chicago on
Thursday night even though he didn’t have to contend with Julius
Peppers or Brian Urlacher and had plenty of time to throw.
His first pass was broken up, his second toss tipped and his
last throw picked off at the goal line.
In between, there were some very good signs for Manning and the
Broncos (No. 10 in the AP Pro32), including a 19-yard completion to
Eric Decker on third-and-17, good reads, nice runs and great
All in all, not a bad day’s work.
”It felt good to get out there,” Manning said. ”We can build
Plus, Manning wasn’t hit in his first preseason game in two
years, which came on a cool and rainy night in which the Bears held
out quarterback Jay Cutler after a downpour drenched the field
Although Broncos coach John Fox held out rookie running back
Ronnie Hillman, who’s coming off a pulled hamstring, he said he
never considered keeping Manning off the wet field.
”No. I think it’s important – we only have four of these
preseason games – and we wanted to take advantage of this first
one,” Fox said.
So, Manning made his first appearance in a game since the Pro
Bowl following the 2010 season, which turned out to be his last in
a Colts helmet. A nerve injury that weakened his throwing arm ended
his streak of 227 straight starts, sidelined him all of last year
and led to his release from Indianapolis five months ago.
John Elway lured him to Denver and he’s been working on his
rehab and rhythm ever since.
”He just missed a year. I’m sure he was anxious to get out
there, just as anxious as we were to see him,” teammate Champ
Bailey said. ”It was good to get that first one under his belt. I
will tell you what, it gives us a chance (at contending for a
title). I think in this league that’s what you want.”
After completing 4 of 7 passes for 44 yards, Manning watched the
rest of Denver’s 31-3 win from the sideline, chaffed by his throw
that was just behind Brandon Stokley, tipped by nickel back D.J.
Moore and picked off by safety Major Wright at the 2.
”Disappointing, obviously, anytime you get down to the red zone
and don’t come away with points,” Manning said.
Despite the interception, Fox called Manning’s performance
”remarkable,” especially given the sloppy conditions.
Stokley said it looked like Manning hasn’t lost a beat.
”To me there was no difference. He still throws the ball
great,” said Stokley, who played with Manning in Indianapolis. ”I
think everybody saw … that he has great control of the offense. I
think we are just going to try to build on this and get better
every week. I think it was a good first step.”
If nothing else, the Broncos showed they could move the ball
with No. 18 under center even when they weren’t playing at their
”We did a lot of good things,” Decker said. ”We ran the ball
great, converted when we needed to. We made some big third down
plays and it’s good to see him in the huddle, being himself. He’s a
business guy when he’s on the field. We’re doing things right. We
executed well. It was a good building stone for us.”
Manning’s next preseason game will be Aug. 18 at home against
Seattle, and if things go as planned, he’ll play most of the first
half against the Seahawks.
You can bet Manning will have his offensive teammates working
hard this week to get on the same page, too.
”I heard Caleb Hanie talking about the key is how you evaluate
yourself and how you improve throughout the preseason,” Manning
said. ”It doesn’t matter what year you are in the NFL, the key is
trying to get better through the preseason. That’s what we hope to
do. That’s what I hope to do.”
Manning was sure he’d cringe at the film of his cameo
appearance, yet he knows not to put too much stock into first snaps
of the preseason.
”There’s a little more pressure in some ways because you only
have 10-12 plays to get it done. In a normal game you have four
quarters to try and make something happen,” he said. ”I thought
there were some good things there. We got a couple third downs. We
overcame. We spread the ball around.”
Manning said he was pleased with Willis McGahee’s runs and noted
that he had fantastic protection on one play where he hit Decker,
his fifth read, on the left sideline.
It was a glimpse of the efficient, balanced offense the Broncos
are installing in place of the option offense they ran last year
when Tim Tebow was their quarterback.
Manning ”looked real good out there, he sat in the pocket and
he showed patience,” McGahee said. ”He showed the trust that he
has in the offensive lines and the running backs. It felt good for
us to see him out there being comfortable.
”I think the dimension he is going to add to the running game
is to take that guy out of the box. It will make us a whole lot
better than we were last year.”
That’s saying something, considering the Broncos led the league
in rushing in 2011, thanks in part to Tebow’s 660 yards
Manning doesn’t take off running, so he’ll be handing off quite
a bit this season, especially if the Broncos can spread out
coverages with big tight ends Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen along
with wide receivers Decker, Stokley, Andre Caldwell and Demaryius
The plan is for Manning to play the first half against Seattle
and into the third quarter against San Francisco on Aug. 26 before
sitting out the exhibition finale at Arizona altogether while the
Broncos determine who, among Hanie, rookie Brock Osweiler and Adam
Weber, wins the backup QB job.
All three had their moments in Chicago: Hanie led a touchdown
drive. Osweiler led the third-stringers on two TD drives and Weber
threw a 25-yard TD pass in the fourth quarter.
Notes: Fox said LB Danny Trevathan (ankle), FB Chris Gronkowski
(groin) and OL Chris Clark (groin) weren’t seriously hurt in the
game. … Newly signed LB Keith Brooking will get his first contact
work in when the Broncos return to Dove Valley for two practices
Online: http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 and
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton on Twitter: