Keyword: Survives, not thrives. Because there was a whole lot of fear regarding Peyton Manning’s debut for the Denver Broncos against the ultra-blitzing Pittsburgh Steelers, waiting for the first moment he’ll take a big hit or sack and connect with the ground. After a 31-19 win, getting sacked twice in the process and hit a couple of more times, it’s safe to say he’s completely back after 20 months.

It was a much more pleasant night for Manning than it was for Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers had the same kind of protection problems last season, against the Broncos in the playoffs and pretty much anyone with an aggressive defense. Big Ben was sacked five times, with Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller in his face all night. He finished with 245 yards (22-40), two touchdowns and that one interception in the fourth quarter to Tracy Porter that closed the game.

Manning was having a frustrating game, especially early on. Long drives, especially to keep him off the field, eventually got the Broncos to play a no-huddle offense, and things got going. Manning led the Broncos on three consecutive 80 yard touchdown drives, throwing for two himself, reaching that 400 career passing touchdowns mark, joining Dan Marion and Brett Favre, but doing it in 208 career games, 20 less than Favre and 19 less than Marino. He has quite a way to go to catch up with Favre (520) although he should blow by the former Miami Dolphins quarterback this season (420).

Executing the no-huddle was always Manning’s expertise, and he didn’t seem to lose too much of his ability in that department. He finished with 253 yards and two touchdown passes, throwing 19 completions out of 26 attempts. Not perfect, but good, maybe more than that. More importantly, he bounced back from the two times he hit the ground without any sort of problem.

It’s just one game. I try to keep it in perspective. I know how hard I’ve worked to get to this point. I know how much help that I’ve gotten along the way, from a lot of people. I’m very grateful for that. It’s special. I will definitely say it’s special.

On the other end, Troy Polamalu wasn’t surprised about how good and efficient Manning, maybe the greatest quarterback of all time, looked on his return.

What can you say? I mean, he’s Peyton Manning. He’s the same Manning. Everything anybody has ever said about him is probably the same thing I would say tonight.

And now it’s on to the next test. Changing the Broncos identity to completely become his team, although that was never going to be a problem. Taking more hits, more punishment, with the grind of the season affecting a 36 year old, post neck surgery quarterback. For now, after the first one behind him, Manning and the Broncos organization can look and feel a bit more confident and comfortable heading into the rest of the season.

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