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Peyton Manning makes Denver Broncos force in AFC

The Denver Broncos huddled for the first three possession of the Peyton Manning era. They punted twice and fumbled. It was all very Broncos offense, circa 2011.

And then John Fox let Peyton Manning be Peyton Manning. The Broncos went no-huddle the rest of the game. It was like the four-time MVP never left.

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.

In a performance that will change the way we look at the AFC's power structure, Manning carved up the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense on his next four drives: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, and a field goal. The Broncos won going away, 31-19 over Pittsburgh, when Manning's old friend Tracy Porter picked off Ben Roethlisberger and returned it for a touchdown.

Manning's arm looked just fine on a few deep out throws. But it was never Manning's arm that set him apart.

He repeatedly got the Broncos into a better play when he saw Troy Polamalu creeping toward the line of scrimmage. Manning got the Broncos' running game going when the Steelers adjusted. Manning found the right one-on-matchups. He outsmarted Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau on LeBeau's 75th birthday.

This was Manning the master tactician proving to the rest of the NFL that he's back -- 26 throws, 253 yards and two scores. You got the sense he was proving it to himself, too, and loving every minute of it.

"I know how hard I've worked to get to this point," Manning told NBC's Michele Tafoya after the game. "It definitely feels good. It's special."

Manning threw in the usual nods to "it's just one game" and "keeping it perspective," but his smile gave him away. It was there throughout the game, too, more than we remember in Indianapolis. After a brush with his football mortality, Manning knows how lucky he is to be playing again.

The Broncos are lucky to have him. The rest of the AFC can adjust accordingly.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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