Not that the expectations for Peyton Manning's preseason debut as a Denver Bronco were high or anything, but the intro to 9News' broadcast of last night's game against the Chicago Bears featured the sort of Leni Riefenstahl-style music and imagery that would have been appropriate to live coverage of Jesus Christ rising from the dead. No mortal could have lived up to those expectations, but Manning did. And he didn't.
Manning's teammates clearly were feeling the pressure. New tight end Jason Tamme was his first target, but he dropped an ultra-catchable ball, earning himself a modest version of Peyton's famed 1,000-yard stare. But Tamme made up for it shortly thereafter, hauling in a tipped pass that won't be part of Manning's highlights reel.
More impressive was Peyton's next chuck, to Eric Decker on the left sideline. The ball wasn't the sort of light beam Manning used to throw routinely during his prime -- there was a visible wobble or two. But it had more than enough zip to get to Decker quickly, and it was where it was supposed to be -- a pair of descriptions that didn't get much use during the brief Tim Tebow era. And a second pass to Decker, over the middle of the field deep in Bears territory, was even more impressive. It had the speed, pace and accuracy for which Manning will be remembered in that Hall of Fame induction speech that, we hope, will be delayed for a few more years due to his Broncos stint.
But then came a third and eight from the Bears twelve. Manning faded back, spotted Brandon Stokley with some room...and threw the ball slightly behind him, prompting another tip and a just-outside-the-goal-line pick by Major Wright.
After which Manning headed off the field, where he stayed for the rest of the contest.
What did we learn from these brief moments of pigskinning? Not that Manning can take a hit, because he didn't -- thank goodness. Instead, we were merely reassured that his arm seems fine, as do his football skills. His demeanor at the line of scrimmage was blessedly familiar: reading defenses, changing plays, communicating to his fellow players through sheer force of will. All of which Broncos fans had been hoping to see.
Loyalists also wanted to find out if the defense had improved, and the final score of 31-3 suggests that it was -- but reading too much into the lopsided score is, like the Bears' offense, almost entirely pointless. Starting QB and ex-Bronco Jay Cutler didn't play, apparently because he was exhausted from his wife giving birth (isn't that just like a man), and the Chicago squad as a whole came across as equally disinterested.
The desultory Bears effort made even third stringers for the Broncos come across like world-beaters -- although I'm willing to grant that Jeremiah Johnson and Xavier Omon look more than capable of displacing Knowshon Moreno, whose play was entirely ordinary, and that giant Brock Osweiler has all the tools to be the Broncos signal caller of the future, if only he can figure out how to use them on a consistent basis.
Still, this show was about Manning, and if he disappointed some viewers, such folks need to keep things in perspective. Peyton is not the messiah. But he may be able to stand in for Him every now and then.
Here's a slew of videos from and about the game.
More from our Sports archive: "Photos: Peyton Manning makes John Elway look normal size."
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