Well, it happened. Press conferences, publicity photo shoots and preseason games couldn't possibly prepare Colts fans -- or anyone else, really -- to see Peyton Manning in another uniform for a game that counts.
But the Manning era began as expected on Sunday night in Denver, and he looked like the same guy that became a legend in Indianapolis. He was 19 of 26 for 245 yards and two touchdowns, and the Broncos beat Pittsburgh 31-19 at Sports Authority Field.
Manning had a solid but unspectacular start, then got into a rhythm, just like he has done countless times before. As the rust fell off from his year out of football, Manning wore out the Steelers defense, working the no-huddle offense masterfully. He read the Pittsburgh defense and picked it apart, patiently taking what it gave him. Manning's 1-yard touchdown to Jacob Tamme gave Denver the lead in the fourth quarter. When Pittsburgh had a chance to win the game, trailing by six points late in the fourth quarter, Manning got some help from a foe-turned-friend.
Cornerback Tracy Porter sealed the win with an interception return for a touchdown -- which looked a little bit like when he was with the Saints and picked off Manning and scored to seal Super Bowl XLIV.
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Manning was happy to be back. Football fans shared the feeling.
"Obviously it feels good," Manning told NBC after the game. "It's just one game and you try to keep it in perspective. But I know how hard I've worked to get this point. I know how much help I've gotten along the way from a lot of people, how much support. I'm very grateful for that. It definitely feels good, it's special. I'll definitely say it's special."
In the third quarter, Manning picked up a milestone that had to feel really weird for Colts fans. Manning had 399 touchdowns for Indianapolis, and got to celebrate his 400th with the Broncos. To be fair, the touchdown was the handiwork of Demaryius Thomas, who showed a ridiculous burst after catching a well-timed receiver screen to the left. The score went for 71 yards, and Manning joined Brett Favre and Dan Marino in the 400 touchdown club.
The touchdown was also Manning's first in the regular season since Jan. 2, 2011, when he hit Pierre Garcon for a 30-yarder against the Titans. Manning missed all of last season, as he got his neck surgically repaired but looked healthy in his Broncos debut.
Manning has been an instant superstar in Denver. Broncos fans may have been excited by Tim Tebow's theatrics last year, but they are all in on the Manning era. They blew away training camp attendance records. There has been a non-stop buzz about the Broncos and Manning in Denver since he signed a $96 million contract in March.
In his first official performance as a Bronco, Manning didn't disappoint.
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