ENGLEWOOD, COLO. (AP) - On his first snap, Peyton Manning went deep. He overshot Demaryius Thomas but nonetheless showed off his arm strength to any doubters that might remain.
On his 14th and final snap of the Denver Broncos‘ summer scrimmage Saturday, Manning found Eric Decker for a 9-yard touchdown toss that drew the largest ovation from the biggest crowd ever to watch the team practice.
But it was another mile marker in Manning’s comeback from his lost 2011 season and a tuneup for Thursday night’s exhibition opener at Chicago, when the four-time MVP suits up in a game for the first time since playing in the Pro Bowl following the 2010 season.
Manning missed all of last season with a nerve injury in his neck that sapped his arm strength and led to tearful departure from Indianapolis.
He’s shown no ill effects from the injury and nary any rust in his right arm this summer.
Manning’s first appearance in blue and orange at Sports Authority Field drew 41,304 fans, almost double the old record of 20,782 set two years ago when a guy by the name of Tim Tebow was the main attraction.
The crowd went wild when Manning came out of the tunnel and when he signed autographs on his way back. They cheered just about every move he made in between.
“Well, it was a great crowd,” Manning said. “I know players were pumped; they were kind of feeding off the energy of the fans and everybody was into it. It will be a good film to learn from on Monday once we study. I thought there were some good things, and some things we need to work on, obviously, but overall, it was a productive day, in my opinion.”
The starters on each side of the ball faced the backups on the other, so Manning didn’t get to see the full force of Denver’s defense led by Champ Bailey, Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil _ they wouldn’t have been allowed to hit him anyway.
“I thought we started a little slow offensively but once we got in the groove of it, getting those competitive juices back, I thought we executed pretty well,” coach John Fox said. “I think defensively, we looked pretty good against that second unit. So, all in all, I thought it was pretty good for our first outing.”
On the first play, Manning overthrew Thomas over the middle.
“Yeah, I tried to go deep,” Manning said. “That’s something that you do every now and then during a game. I could tell during the 7-on-7 early on that throwing the short passes wasn’t real exciting for the crowd, so the last play of my 7-on-7, I actually changed that play to a deep pass just to try to keep the fans from leaving, I guess.”
He hit Andre Caldwell along the right sideline for a 60-yard scoring play.