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Manning started his first 277 games of his career, including the playoffs, before turning into a sideline spectator last season.

Despite getting off to a fine start in Denver, Manning insists his rehabilitation and his transition to his new surroundings are both season-long works in progress.

“I’m still feeling my way out, I still have some limitations,” Manning insisted. “This team is still forming its identity. As you’re feeling yourself out, feeling your team out and you get a win in that process, that’s a nice thing.”

The Broncos installed a power passing game this summer after turning the NFL upside-down last season when they dusted off the old read-option offense to fit Tim Tebow’s unique skill set.

Now that Manning’s in Denver and Tebow’s in New York, the Broncos are balanced again, running the ball 27 times and throwing it 26 Sunday night.

Manning and the Broncos started out slowly before turning to the no-huddle, which led to three long TD drives. They were so efficient that they didn’t even falter when Roethlisberger took an incredible 44 snaps to Manning’s three during one stretch spanning the second and third quarters.

One of those three was a kneel-down at the half, another a 9-yard pass to Eric Decker and the third one a toss in the left flat to Thomas, who turned upfield and weaved his way for a 71-yard score.

It was Thomas who beat the Steelers in the AFC wild-card game eight months earlier when he caught a perfect pass from Tebow on a crossing pattern and raced 80 yards into the end zone on the first play of overtime.

“It’s kind of similar,” Thomas said, “but not quite the same.”

The best defense for Manning in the opener was Roethlisberger, who kept his counterpart cooling his cleats on the sideline.

“Wasn’t much fun sitting on the bench there all night,” Manning said. “… You get up to warm up, kind of getting ready and see them on a third-and-15 and thinking you’re about to go out there and he converts it and you go back and sit down.”

Manning was magnificent when he did get into the game and dusted off the no-huddle. He didn’t exactly run it at breakneck speed, mind you. The Broncos ran it to keep Pittsburgh from its usual situational substitutions.

Manning actually used as much of the play clock as he could, all the while decoding defenders’ intentions, calling audibles and putting on that famous show of gyrations, finger-pointing and foot-stomping that were staples of his game in Indy.

“The no-huddle’s something I know Peyton has a lot of confidence in, a lot of background in,” Fox said. “He did a good job of eating clock in the no-huddle. It wasn’t a hurry-up no-huddle per se, but I think it kind of puts the defense on their heels a little bit.”

Manning avoided many big hits, too, getting the ball out quickly. Running back Knowshon Moreno was beaten on both of Manning’s sacks, one of them coming when he was left trying to block two pass-rushers.

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