DENVER -- Peyton Manning returned from a yearlong absence to lead four scoring drives, completing a go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and the Denver Broncos pulled away to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19 Sunday night.
The NFL's only four-time MVP, who missed his final season in Indianapolis after undergoing a series of operations to repair a neck injury, Manning completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, including the 400th of his career.
Manning, who became one of the most sought after free agents in league history following his release by the Colts, joined the Broncos in March.
Ben Roethlisberger finished 22 of 40 for 245 yards and two touchdowns. However, he was sacked five times and intercepted once.
Trailing 14-13 after three quarters, the Steelers regained the lead 19-14 in the opening seconds of the fourth when Roethlisberger finished a drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace.
Again, Manning had an answer, leading the Broncos on their third touchdown drive of the night. The Broncos weathered a replay review ultimately confirming that wide receiver Eric Decker lost the ball at the Steelers' 1-yard line only after it hit the ground. Manning then hit tight end Jacob Tamme, one of the quarterback's former Indianapolis teammates, for his second scoring pass of the night.
Manning completed a pass to Willis McGahee for a two-point conversion that put the Broncos in front 22-19 with 9:23 left.
Matt Prater added a 26-yard field goal for the Broncos with three minutes left, and cornerback Tracy Porter sealed it when he stepped in front of Emmanuel Sanders to intercept Roethlisberger's pass and return it 43 yards for a touchdown with 1:58 to play.
After Pittsburgh went in front 13-7 on Shaun Suisham's second field goal midway through the third quarter, the Broncos struck quickly to go back in front.
Manning faked a run up the middle to Willis McGahee and tossed the ball in the flat to Demaryius Thomas, who shot past a secondary frozen by the play fake. The catch-and-run went 71 yards for a touchdown.
On the play, Manning became only the third player in NFL history with 400 career touchdown passes, joining Brett Favre (508) and Dan Marino (420). And the Steelers probably had a flashback to Thomas' game-winning, 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow on the first play of overtime in a wild-card playoff game that ended Pittsburgh's season in January.
Roethlisberger, side-stepping pressure, twice converted third-and-long situations to extend a second-quarter drive that he finished with a third-down completion to Heath Miller for a 4-yard touchdown and a 10-7 halftime lead.
Manning, turning to the no-huddle that he used with tremendous success during his 14 years in Indianapolis, led an 80-yard touchdown drive that put the Broncos up 7-3 midway through the second quarter. Manning went 6-for-6 for 54 yards and scrambled 7 yards for a first down on the drive that Knowshon Moreno ended with a 7-yard run, his first rushing touchdown since 2010.
Pittsburgh was first to hit the scoreboard on a 21-yard field goal by Suisham with 10:10 left in the first quarter. The Steelers had a first-and-goal at the Broncos' 3-yard line but settled for the field goal after three consecutive incompletions, the last on a deflection by Porter that prevented the pass from reaching a wide-open Miller in the end zone.
The Steelers' defense took a hit before the game started when pass-rushing linebacker James Harrison was listed among the team's inactive players because of a knee injury. Safety Ryan Clark also sat out because of a sickle cell trait that could sicken him if he played in Denver's mile-high altitude. Running back Rashard Mendenhall, coming off a knee injury suffered at the end of last season, also was deactivated.
The Broncos were without linebacker D.J. Williams, their leading tackler from four of the last five seasons, who began a six-game suspension related to violating the league's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.
NOTES: Manny Ramirez started at right guard for Chris Kuper, the only Bronco listed on the team's pregame injury report. Kuper suffered a broken bone in his left forearm during training camp last month. ... During the weekend, the Broncos released quarterback Caleb Hanie, leaving rookie Brock Osweiler as Manning's backup. ... Broncos defensive tackle Ty Warren left in the second quarter with an elbow injury. ... Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert sustained a left knee injury in the second quarter. ... Pittsburgh guard Ramon Foster also went out in the second with an eye injury. ... Denver rookie defensive end Derek Wolfe had his first career sack when he took down Roethlisberger in the opening quarter.