After seeing nary a second of playing time during the 2011-2012 NFL season, former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning made his on-field debut in a Denver Broncos uniform on Thursday night in a preseason match-up with the Chicago Bears. The middle Manning son — who spent all 14 seasons of his career so far in Indianapolis, leading the Colts to a Super Bowl win in 2007 — was traded to Denver in the offseason following a string of debilitating neck surgeries. Up until the 2011 season, Manning had never missed a single game in his prolific career. The Broncos beat the Bears handily, 31-3, with Manning playing for only a few minutes, completing four of seven passes on 11 plays for a total of 44 yards. Does the four-time MVP still have the magic that made him arguably the best quarterback of the past decade? Here, four talking points:
1. He is understandably rusty
Manning's first appearance "was brief and a bit uneven," says CBS Sports. On the game's opening possession, the legendary quarterback threw an interception near the goal line and seemed "a bit off target." He simply "doesn't have the chemistry" with the Broncos' receivers yet, says Ian Hanford at the Bleacher Report, but give him credit: "He has had to adjust to a new offense, new receivers, and fresh surroundings" while recovering from four major neck surgeries. "It's easy to expect someone of Manning's stature to adjust immediately, but that's just not realistic."
2. And his health prognosis remains a mystery
As it stands, Manning isn't a current top five NFL quarterback, says Brendan Darr at Operations Sports. And the reason is simple: "We don't know if he is fully healthy." We can speculate all day long, but none of us really knows for sure. "Hell, doctors aren't even 100 percent positive." To be clear, "I don't want Manning to get hurt, and I want him to be healthy all season long," but I'm scared for him: He "could be one hit away from an early retirement."
3. Seeing Peyton in uniform is good for the NFL
It was only a preseason game, says Cindy Boren at The Washington Post, and yet "it was so refreshing to see him redirecting players and calling audibles that it didn't really seem that weird to see him in a Denver Broncos uniform." And there was probably "no one more excited for preseason football to begin than Peyton Manning," says Julie Hayes at Yahoo.
4. The Broncos' offense is the real deal
The offense "looked crisp and smooth" for the first time in a long time, says Yahoo's Hayes. "The running game was nicely mixed in with the passes," and Manning looked like he was in complete control, even when he was missing the mark. For Broncos fans, it was a nice change from the days when Tim Tebow was quarterback and "there were so many three-and-out drives." As long as everything around #18 remains "tip-top," the Broncos needn't really worry about scoring points, says Andrew Mason at Sporting News. "Under his direction, the Broncos' offense was everything it wasn't in 2011: Steady and consistent," with an elite quarterback "able to expose the slightest flaw in coverage."