Peyton Manning has Denver Broncos positioned for success

DENVER -- His burnt-orange sweater wasn't quite the right shade. It was also clearly too dated to have been purchased within the six months since his son, Peyton Manning, signed with his new orange-and-blue team.

But Archie Manning, who arrived in the Denver Broncos locker room late Sunday to greet his son in the wake of his first regular-season football game since Jan. 8, 2011, figured the sweater was still close enough.

"It's the only orange thing I own," Archie said. "I was actually doing a little clean-out recently, and I took all of my (Indianapolis) Colts stuff, a lot of caps, a lot of T-shirts and sweatshirts and shorts, and I got it all together and put it in a sack. I didn't throw it away. I just put it in a sack. I don't wear it anymore. But it's there. It's in a closet."

In so many little ways, Peyton's transition from Colt to Bronco has been a very emotional, very strange process for the Manning family. But you know what? On Sunday, as Denver was in the process of beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-19, it all started to feel a little more normal again. It was finally about football. Not about rehabilitation. Not about free agency. Just football.

It isn't really tough to pinpoint when it happened, either. With 10:10 left in the second quarter, Manning gestured to his teammates. It was time to speed things up. Time to forget about this huddling business.

The calls at the line of scrimmage came back. The flapping arms. The funny waggles. And then, one crisp play after another, something else came back, too: the success.

Photo gallery: Manning through the years

"Once we started getting the ball rolling, got a little rhythm, it just seemed like everything we did was working, and he was orchestrating the whole thing," Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokley said.

"It seemed like it was the old Peyton, back in form."

In 12 plays, Manning drove the Broncos 80 yards, culminating in a 7-yard touchdown run by Knowshon Moreno.

Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers ground away the clock over their next two possessions -- even though Manning had to wait through 30 Steelers plays before getting another chance to score some points -- that second-quarter touchdown drive seemed to settle everyone's nerves. It seemed to scream that, yes, Manning was back.

"He gives everybody hope," said wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. "Everybody. I don't care who you are."

At the very least, Thomas can certainly speak for himself. On Friday, before he'd even played a regular-season snap with his new quarterback, Thomas told NFL.com that he felt like Manning had already given his career a bigger jolt than the 80-yard playoff-game-winning touchdown catch from Tim Tebow that put Thomas on the NFL map.

On Sunday, Thomas justified the sentiment with a 71-yard touchdown catch -- a play that continued to build the early case that Denver will indeed be a serious force in the AFC this season.

The attitude seemed to reverberate from one side of the football to the other. Even as the Steelers' long drives put the Broncos defense in a vulnerable spot, Denver's energy never waned, right down to Pittsburgh's last two possessions of the game.

On NFL Replay
NFL Replay
will re-air the Denver Broncos' 31-19 win over the Pittsburgh  Steelers in Week 1 on Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 9:30 p.m. ET.

The Broncos' defensive players used to say Tebow's fourth-quarter heroics made them feel like they always had a chance to win. Manning's success earlier Sunday, however, seemed to set the tone that fate need not be involved. This, instead, was about playing sound, consistent football.

It was no fluke that Broncos cornerback Tracy Porter jumped a route -- just as he'd done to Manning in Super Bowl XLIV, clinching the New Orleans Saints' victory over the Colts -- to intercept a Ben Roethlisberger pass with 2:10 left in the game, returning it for a score and snuffing out any chance that the Steelers quarterback could mount a lead-stealing effort. And it was no fluke that Roethlisberger was sacked three times on Pittsburgh's final drive. No, this was just straight-up, energy-induced momentum.

"I think this team is still forming its identity," Manning said.

"When you get a win in that process, it's a nice thing."

Manning himself noted he is still "feeling (his) way out," admitting he has "some limitations" as he grows comfortable in the offense. And hey, that's plenty fair. In the same way that his father is still growing comfortable with transitioning to this fresh start, so are the Broncos.

This was the beginning of a new chapter in Denver. And while there's no reason to knock the last chapter -- which surely provided some great memories -- everyone within the Broncos organization is clearly thrilled about where this one is headed.

"I know how hard I've worked and how many people have helped me in this process," Manning said. "I'm grateful -- and I'm definitely appreciative of the moment and the opportunity."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @JeffDarlington.

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