It was an eventful first Sunday of the NFL football season. The 49ers eliminated the Packers at Lambeau in what could have been a preview of this season’s NFC Championship game, RG3 looked like the real deal in his first pro start as the Redskins defeated the Saints, the new offense of the Bears dominated the Colts and ruined the dawn of the Andrew Luck era in Indianapolis, the Seattle Seahawks, everyone’s preseason favorites, fell short against the Cardinals, and the Jets defeated the revamped Bills in a game in the one where Mark Sanchez shone and Tim Tebow faded into the background.
All of these games occurred earlier in the day before what many considered the main matchup of Week 1, which was the Pittsburgh Steelers versus the Denver Broncos in a Sunday night matchup that featured the return of Peyton Manning. .
I was never a fan of the Indianapolis Colts per se, but as the years went on I began to appreciate more and more all the little things that Manning brought to the table every week to help his team win games. Practically from his first day at Indy, he fit the mold of what a franchise quarterback should be: dependable, durable, accurate, polished, studious and, most importantly, a winner. Manning’s stats speak for themselves, and he’s likely to retire as the best regular-season quarterback the game has ever known.
The Colts imploded without him in 2011, falling to 2-14 and making one wonder how they seemed to rack up ten more wins like Cordwood (Scott Lillie™) each season with Manning under center. The sad truth is that Eli’s older brother hides many shortcomings at Indy, serving as the de facto offensive coordinator on the field calling plays and line formations, and routinely turning good receivers into greats and big receivers into future Hall of Famers. Fame. .
He was delegated on the sidelines last year after experiencing a setback following neck surgery in the offseason, and while the NFL kept moving forward and we witnessed a great regular season, playoffs and Super Bowl, it definitely felt weird without the No. 18 in the field. It’s almost as if it’s become part of the gaming subculture; not only for his game on the field, but also for his presence off it. I can’t think of a more marketable athlete in my lifetime outside of Michael Jordan as he made a second career and attracted new fans with his entertaining commercials and easygoing demeanor.
All of which brings us to Peyton’s debut tonight in Denver. NBC put a note at the beginning that it had been 610 days since Manning was last in a game, so it would be only natural that he had some rust in the ring early on.
It was so weird seeing him run out onto the field in that bright orange Bronco uniform, almost as weird as the first time Montana suited up with the Chiefs or Favre with the Jets. However, my eyes adjusted to this strange image after a few minutes, and when Manning completed his first pass of the game to Eric Decker, I felt like I had never left an NFL group.
This sentiment was etched in the second quarter when the Broncos began to struggle offensively. The Steelers’ defense has long been regarded as one of the best in the league, and it has a habit of playing physical and pummeling teams into submission. However, they were helpless that night, as Manning held a walk-through clinic. Pittsburgh’s defense couldn’t slow down Denver’s offense for any significant stretch once they got going, and the Broncos ended up winning by a score of 31-19.
The night probably couldn’t have gone better for the Broncos and their fans. Convincing Manning to sign with Denver was a blow to John Elway, but this has to be precisely what he had imagined his team would be like with a great quarterback at the helm. Any lingering concerns about Manning’s health or arm strength will be brushed aside, as he got a few hits, threw all the pitches and showed a lot of life with his fastball.
Manning has always been a model of consistency, not just for the Colts for all those years, but for the league as a whole. Having him back would have been great for the NFL under any circumstances, but it will be even better if he can replicate performances like tonight’s in the coming weeks and months. Executing the no huddle to perfection, switching protections and lane plays; the guy is an artist and can put the ball wherever he wants. There’s a new generation of signal-callers making noise on Sundays, and as long as the Mannings and Bradys of the world keep playing, hopefully we get to see some more classic quarterback matchups.