Same ole' Peyton Manning. As Broncos fans we have seen this plenty of times. Peyton Manning masterfully orchestrating an offense that an opposing defense can't stop - no matter what it does. Yes, Broncos Country knows it all too well. Pittsburgh Steelers fans, however, have had plenty of success against Manning, going back to 2005 when the Steelers shocked the Indianapolis Colts on their way to winning Super Bowl XL.
Tonight, however, Peyton Manning put the Steelers, the AFC and all of the NFL on notice that he is back and might be better than ever. After a slow start, Manning used his patented no-huddle offense, along with a quick-strike touchdown to Demaryius Thomas, to beat the Steelers 31-19.
The Steelers, for three quarters, did exactly what you want to do against Manning - keep him off the field. The Steelers held the ball for all but 34 seconds on the 3rd quarter, and ran 24 plays to just 2 for the Broncos. Denver needed just two plays, however, to score a touchdown, with Manning picking up touchdown pass #400 on a 71-yard swing pass to Demaryius Thomas. The Steelers re-took the lead early in the 4th quarter, but that is when Manning really proved he was back, leading the Broncos to a go-ahead touchdown, followed by a field goal, giving the Broncos a 25-19 lead with just over 3 minutes to go.
Tracy Porter did the rest, doing something that likely looked mighty familiar to Manning:
Porter's touchdown gave the Broncos a 31-19 lead, and three Broncos sacks later, Manning had a win in his return to the football field. His numbers - 19/26, 253 yards, 2 TDs, 129.2 RAT - were impressive as was his command of the game from very early on.
It wasn't all rosy for Denver, however. The Steelers dominated large parts of the game, with the Broncos defense seemingly unable to get off the field - especially on 3rd Down. The Steelers finished the game 11-19 on 3rd down and won the T.O.P battle by over 10 minutes(35:05-24:25). The difference, however, was the big play. The Broncos averaged 10.2 yards per pass compared to 6.1 YPP for the Steelers, and the Broncos did a great job against the Steelers running game, holding the Steelers to just 75 yards on 26 carries(2.9 ypc)
There were other solid performances - Wesley Woodyard's 12 tackles, Von Miller's sacks - and his celebrations:
Most importantly, it was a Denver Broncos win. With a trip to Atlanta to come next Monday night, a win over the Steelers was imperative and they found a way to get it done. That is the most important thing, but I'll say this - 2011 was fun, there is no doubt - but not THIS kind of fun. Buckle-up, Broncos Country, it's going to be one heluva ride!