DENVER (AP) — Peyton Manning threw the 400th touchdown pass of his career on a 71-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas and the Denver Broncos grabbed a 14-13 lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers through three quarters Sunday night.
Manning joins Brett Favre (508) and Dan Marino (420) as the only NFL quarterbacks to reach that milestone. He’s also needed the fewest games to do so. This was Manning’s 209th game, while it took Favre 228 games and Marino 227.
On the touchdown, Thomas caught the ball between defenders and then simply took off. No one could catch him.
It was almost reminiscent of what happened last season between the two teams, when Denver ended Pittsburgh’s year on Thomas’ 80-yard TD catch and run from Tim Tebow on the first play of overtime in the AFC wild-card playoff game.
This time, though, there was no Tebow under center, just a four-time NFL MVP.
Through three quarters, Manning was 12 of 16 for 178 yards.
The Steelers looked as if they had regained the lead with 24 seconds left in the third quarter when Jonathan Dwyer scampered in from 11 yards. But after review it was ruled his knee touched the field at the 2 late in the quarter.
Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense have been highly proficient, especially on third downs as they converted 11 of 16 chances. But they’ve struggled to get the ball into the end zone, settling for two field goals by Shaun Suisham.
Just before halftime, Roethlisberger found his tight end Heath Miller over the middle and Miller simply walked into the end zone for a 4-yard score with 28 seconds remaining in the half. The Steelers converted on four third downs during the 14-play scoring drive.
Earlier in the second quarter, Denver’s Knowshon Moreno bounced outside for a 7-yard TD run. Manning was magnificent on Denver’s scoring drive, completing 6 of 7 passes for 54 yards. He also flashed some speed as he scrambled away from pressure and ran for 7 yards.
Moreno made a nifty cut on his surgically repaired right knee, juking Pittsburgh defenders before bounding into the end zone. Moreno missed a good chunk of last season after tearing his ACL at Kansas City.
Manning, coming off four neck surgeries, was playing in his first real game since Jan. 8, 2011. He completed his first pass for the Broncos — a 13-yarder to Eric Decker — and took his first hit when he was sacked by Larry Foote.
He was 10 of 14 for 98 yards at halftime.
The Steelers drove to the Broncos 3 early in the second quarter, but couldn’t punch it in the end zone. On third down, Roethlisberger threw to Miller in the back of the end zone, only to have Tracy Porter reach up at the last instant to bat the pass away.
Suisham came on and easily converted a 21-yard field goal.
Pittsburgh squandered a golden opportunity in the first quarter when LaMarr Woodley recovered Willis McGahee’s fumble in Denver territory. Roethlisberger completed a third-down pass to Emmanuel Sanders, but the Steelers soon began moving backward. A sack by rookie defensive lineman Derek Wolfe knocked them out of field goal range.
Punter Drew Butler pinned the Broncos at the 1-yard line, but Manning moved them by completing a 17-yard pass to Brandon Stokley, his close friend and former teammate when they were both in Indianapolis.
Soon after, the drive stalled.
The Broncos were without defensive tackle Ty Warren, who injured his elbow in his first game in three seasons and was questionable to return.
Pittsburgh offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (left knee) and guard Ramon Foster (eye injury) were also questionable to return.
The Steelers already were without James Harrison as the Pro Bowl linebacker works his way back from minor surgery on his left knee. The loss of Harrison was a big blow to a stalwart Steelers defense that’s also missing safety Ryan Clark, who’s sitting out as a precaution because of a blood disorder that’s aggravated by altitude.
Running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee) didn’t play, either. Isaac Redman stepped in and had 10 carries for just 21 yards through three quarters.
Before the game, the Broncos honored several Olympians from Colorado, including swimmer Missy Franklin, who won four gold medals and a bronze in London. She also served as an honorary captain and was on the field for the coin flip.
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