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Lessons learned from Sunday's preseason games

The fine people of Denver were waiting for this.

On Sunday, Peyton Manning shrugged off a pair of ho-hum preseason performances to produce his best outing yet against the San Francisco 49ers. The Denver Broncos quarterback finished 10-of-12 passing for 122 yards with a pair of touchdowns. On three first-quarter drives, Manning looked at home in Denver's offense.

Manning's arm has diminished, but his mind has not.

We saw the old veteran jawing at wideouts, shifting linemen and staying ahead of San Francisco's defense (Manning also survived a major hit). He distributed mostly short and intermediate throws, but also threw a nice long ball to running back Lance Ball along the right sideline. There was concern about Manning's ability to throw to that side of the field, but he challenged the notion with some success on Sunday, a day that saw two nationally televised games go down:

» The big winners in Denver are the flock of young receivers. Manning spread the wealth around on offense, with everyone from Joel Dreessen to Eric Decker getting in on the action. Manning also formed a nice connection with Ball, who caught that 38-yard rope.

» Alex Smith completed a pretty 44-yard touchdown pass to tight end Vernon Davis, but peel that away and San Francisco's starting quarterback was just 4-for-6 for 25 yards. We aren't seeing much chemistry between Smith and the gang of wideouts Jim Harbaugh imported this offseason.

» Broncos rookie back Ronnie Hillman has been struggling with injuries this preseason, but pumped out 29 yards on the ground Sunday. He's being counted on to eventually play a Darren Sproles-like role in Manning's backfield, but he's not there yet.

» At one point in the FOX broadcast booth, Troy Aikman and Joe Buck wondered out loud if Terry Bradshaw had fallen asleep. A special moment for viewers nationwide. Earlier on, we were treated to Bradshaw's assessment of quarterback Matt Flynn, tucked away in Seattle: "Barely any good," Bradshaw said, "... Had one good game against Detroit and got rich off it."

» Meanwhile, another contest floats by without a reception for Randy Moss. No reason to panic, but the 49ers' pass-catcher has been a ghost throughout the preseason.

» Mark Sanchez completed a pair of long passes out of the chute, connecting with Dustin Keller for 24 yards on the first play of the game and Patrick Turner for 30 on the next. Two plays, 54 yards. It took Sanchez 11 passes to compile 59 yards against the New York Giants last week. But the fast start was a mirage, leading to a lonely field goal.

» Hard not to be slightly annoyed by NBC's Cris Collinsworth gushing endlessly over Cam Newton -- he kept labeling him a "big, strong, good-looking kid." To Newton's credit, he continues to look the part. On third-and-8 on Carolina's opening drive, we saw "Ace Boogie" rumble effortlessly out of Aaron Maybin's grasp for nine yards and the first down. Not an earth-shattering play, but another example of the gifts that make Newton the most dangerous (and thrilling) quarterback in the game.

» Nice moment for Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, who dropped Mark Sanchez for an 8-yard loss in the first quarter. It was Davis' first game back after missing all of last season following his third ACL surgery.

» The Jets have reloaded on defense. Lineman Kenrick Ellis is a matchup problem for offenses and Quinton Coples destroyed Newton on a big hit in the first half. Much less impressive was cornerback Kyle Wilson -- the former first-round pick -- who appeared lost in the secondary.

» Tim Tebow has a bad habit of staring down receivers (he narrowly missed an ugly pick on his first drive of the second half). Against Panthers reserves, Tebow finished a woeful 4-for-14 for 55 yards with an interception. The shine is off. Rex Ryan was seen shaking his head on the sideline at points. You have to wonder if the coach -- in some sort of offseason, mountain-top reverie -- thought he could return to this grind-it-out style of offense with any success. So far, none.

» We almost hate to mention it, but Wayne Hunter -- playing among no-namers -- allowed another ugly sack in the fourth quarter. Life for Hunter has become a wilderness. We will leave him be.

Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.

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