DENVER -- Two heavyweight quarterbacks, one wearing new colors, put on a passing show on the NFL's biggest regular-season stage Sunday night.
Peyton Manning, playing in his first game with the Denver Broncos, out-dueled and outlasted the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger to prevail, 31-19.
Each quarterback threw two touchdown passes, and both liberally used their no-huddle offenses well in an opener that lived up to its billing. Right up near the end, Roethlisberger had a chance to pull this one out. Trailing by six with less than three minutes to go, he completed a 19-yard pass to Emmanuel Sanders to the Steelers' 39.
However, two plays later, Roethlisberger tried to go back to Sanders along the left sideline when cornerback Tracy Porter cut in front to pick it off and return it 43 yards for a touchdown that decided it for good. It was the only interception of the game for either quarterback. Roethlisberger was sacked five times and Manning twice.
Manning, after 14 years with Indianapolis, missed all last season after two neck surgeries. The Broncos traded for him and he picked right back up in orange and blue what he did in blue and white. He brought his team back after trailing at the half, 10-7 and again after trailing 19-14 in the fourth quarter.
For every long scoring drive the Steelers produced Sunday night, Manning and his Broncos had an answer. The deciding one came midway through the fourth quarter.
Manning, directing the Broncos in the no-huddle offense the way he did so well with the Colts, took his offense 80 yards to score the go-ahead touchdown with 9:23 to go. He passed for one yard to Jacob Tamme for the touchdown, then passed for the two-point conversion to Willis McGahee to give Denver a 22-19 lead.
On the next series for the Steelers, Mike Wallace broke wide open deep down the right sideline but Ben Roethlisberger did not see him and threw incomplete toward Heath Miller on third down.
Earlier in the first half, Manning hit Demarius Thomas with a deja-vu 79-yard touchdown pass to give Denver a 14-13 lead. But the Steelers responded with another grinding, long go-ahead drive. That 80-yard drive ended when, on third down, Ben Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace on a slant over the middle for a 3-yard touchdown pass. A pass for two points failed and the Steelers led 19-15.
Roethlisberger threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Miller with 28 seconds left to give the Steelers a 10-7 halftime lead.
Roethlisberger completed passes of 27 and 23 yards to Antonio Brown and a big 17-yarder to Emmanuel Sanders on third down as he drove his offense 79 yards on 14 plays to reclaim the lead.
On a sour note for the Steelers, they lost two more starting offensive linemen to injuries in the first half. Tackle Marcus Gilbert hobbled off during that touchdown drive with a left knee injury. Guard Ramon Foster left the game with an eye injury. Rookie Mike Adams replaced Gilbert and Doug Legursky replaced Foster. However, Gilbert and Foster both remained on the sideline and did not appear to be seriously injured.
The Steelers strung together a second-straight long drive, this one to open the second half. It was not quite as successful as the touchdown drive that ended the first half. This one lasted longer, covering 16 plays and nearly nine minutes, but ended with Shaun Suisham's 35-yard field goal.
The Steelers led 13-7 with 6:05 to go in the third quarter.
It did not take Denver long to get back on top, striking in a similar fashion as they did last January. This time, though, it wasn't Tim Tebow but Peyton Manning throwing to Demaryius Thomas. He threw a quick screen to the left, Troy Polamalu got caught on a bad angle inside and Thomas split 79 yards untouched for the score that made it 14-13. It took the Broncos 36 seconds to tie it.
The Steelers scored first in the second quarter to take a 3-0 lead. Antonio Brown, returning punts instead of rookie Chris Rainey, ran one back 23 yards to Denver's 38 to set up Shaun Suisham's 21-yarder.
That was bittersweet, though, for an offense that had a first down at the three and could not score. Roethlisberger threw three consecutive incomplete passes from there. On the last one, Miller was wide open behind the defense in the back left side of the end zone. Roethlisberger's pass did not have quite enough loft to it and cornerback Tracy Porter jumped up and tipped it incomplete.
Manning then went to work, using the no-huddle, Indianapolis style, for the first time. He moved them 80 yards on 12 plays, seven of them passes and one big quarterback scramble. Manning, chased out of the pocket by Lawrence Timmons, ran to the right and gained seven yards and a first down at the Steelers' 34.
Knowshon Moreno scored from the seven, bouncing outside to his left after he was stopped on a run up the middle, to put Indianapolis in front 7-3.
A conservative Steelers offense had trouble getting going in the first quarter, but their defense made up for it with two sacks and a turnover in the first quarter.
The Steelers recovered their first fumble of the season after just four all of last season. Larry Foote, all over the place in the first quarter, hit Willis McGahee to force the fumble and LaMarr Woodley recovered at Denver's 47.
They reached the 33 after Roethlisberger's 13-yard pass to Sanders, but two running plays lost three and Roethlisberger was sacked on third down back to the 45. Foote and Jason Worilds had the first-quarter Steelers sacks.
First Published September 10, 2012 1:30 AM