Peyton Manning drew his biggest ovation on an incompletion.
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Blasted by defensive end Bruce Irvin, the four-time MVP who missed all of last season with a neck injury that required four operations bounced right back up, shook it off and threw a 22-yard bullet to Brandon Stokley on the next play.
It was the highlight of a mostly forgettable home debut for Manning, whose Broncos lost 30-10 to the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday night after Denver’s backups were outscored 21-0.
Manning had shown throughout training camp that his arm strength was back along with his accuracy. The only question left was whether he could take a hard hit after undergoing neck fusion surgery last September.
The answer came with 1:25 left in the first half when Irvin beat right tackle Orlando Franklin and had a clean shot at the quarterback.
”I came into the game trying to be the first one to get a shot on him since he’s been back and I guess I succeeded,” Irvin said. ”He’s a great quarterback, got the ball out quick and it’s hard to get to him. I just put on a good move and just so happened to get through.”
Welcome back to the NFL, Peyton.
”He didn’t say anything. He moaned a little bit, though,” Irvin said. ”So I guess he really felt it. It was a good hit, good play and now it’s time to move on.”
Manning’s sentiments, too, after his first hit in 19 months.
”I never heard a crowd cheer for an incompletion before,” Manning said. ”I think the next pass was to Stokley, right? That’s what I told you I was going to do.”
Indeed, Manning had been saying for weeks that he only hoped that first big hit happened on first or second down so he could bounce back up and complete a long pass.
He couldn’t decide what was better, getting that initial big blast out of the way or putting a halt to all the questions about whether he could still take a hit.
”Both of them are just fine with me,” Manning said.
As the ball sailed out of bounds, Manning popped right back up and the crowd went wild.
”We weren’t worried about it. I think everybody else was,” Stokley said. ”Now, we don’t have to hear about that anymore.”
Instead, they can concentrate on all the mistakes they’ve been making with Manning under center.
Manning played the first half and gave the Broncos (1-1) a 10-9 lead despite three turnovers, including an interception in the red zone for the second straight week, and another at midfield on a bad overthrow.
He looked great on a 2-minute drive, but that stalled when tight end Jacob Tamme, his old pal from Indianapolis, dropped a wide-open touchdown pass 6 seconds before halftime following a drop by Eric Decker and a 15-yard penalty on center J.D. Walton.
”Well, we moved the ball well,” Stokley said. ”We had a good 2-minute drive going and we kind of shot ourselves in the foot with the 15-yard penalty. So, we did some good things and then we did some bad things, so you’ve just got to be glad it’s preseason and not the regular season.”
Terrell Owens had a disappointing debut for the Seahawks (2-0), failing to catch any of the five passes thrown his way.
Owens is trying to show he’s fully recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of the NFL for the entire 2011 season, but in his first NFL game action since Week 15 of the 2010 season with Cincinnati, he was out of sync with quarterback Matt Flynn.
Flynn targeted him five times. The first was behind him, the second was over his head, the third was knocked away by Elvis Dumervil and then cornerback Champ Bailey broke up a slant pass.
The fifth incompletion was all on Owens.
He sped past cornerback Chris Harris on a deep post and was wide open to haul in a perfectly thrown 46-yard touchdown pass from Flynn but it slipped through his fingers just as he raced across the goal line.
”That would have been a really big event for us in the first half, to score on that play,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. ”… It was unfortunate. He’s got to get back in action and that was his first time out there. So he’s been very much on point in practice. He’s worked very hard. And so he’s caught a lot of deep balls in practice so I know he can make those plays for us and it’s unfortunate we didn’t get it right off the bat.”
Manning was sharp on an 11-play, 80-yard that ended with Willis McGahee’s 1-yard TD run and in the 2-minute drill at the end of the second quarter, when the Broncos failed to capitalize.
They settled for Matt Prater’s 32-yard field goal that gave Denver a 10-9 halftime lead over the Seahawks despite Manning’s two interceptions and a fumble by Lance Ball.
In the most anticipated preseason home opener for the Broncos since his boss, John Elway, was the one directing Denver’s offense, Manning completed 16 of 23 passes for 177 yards with no TDs.
On first-and-goal from the 9, defensive end Red Bryant tipped Manning’s pass into the arms of linebacker K.J. Wright at the line of scrimmage. On Manning’s other pickoff, the ball sailed on him and safety Jeron Johnson easily intercepted it.
Steven Hauschka kicked field goals of 43, 36 and 43 yards for Seattle.
Flynn finished 6 of 13 for 31 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions.
The second half was all Seahawks as they scored on Kregg Lumpkin’s 16-yard run before rookie Russell Wilson (10 of 17 for 155 yards) threw TD passes of 34 yards to Tyrell Sutton and 8 yards to Cooper Helfet.
NOTES: Broncos WR Bubba Caldwell and LB Nate Irving both were knocked from the game with rib injuries. … Broncos S David Bruton blocked one punt and deflected another.