Peyton Manning had a winning debut with the Denver Broncos in his first National Football League game in 19 months.
Manning, 36, threw two touchdown passes, including the go-ahead score to Jacob Tamme with 9 minutes, 23 seconds remaining, as the Broncos beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19 last night in Denver. A four-time NFL Most Valuable Player who missed the 2011 season after neck surgery, Manning completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards before Tracy Porter sealed the win with a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown with 1:58 left.
“It feels good,” said Manning, who signed a $96 million, five-year contract with the Broncos in March. “It’s just one game and you try to keep it in perspective, but I know how hard I’ve worked to get to this point. It’s special.”
Manning’s Denver debut capped a day in which the New York Jets scored the most points by any team in an opening-week game since 2003 by beating the Buffalo Bills 48-28, the San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 30-22 in a matchup of two of this year’s top three Super Bowl favorites, and only one of the league’s record five rookie starting quarterbacks won.
Manning’s first touchdown pass with the Broncos was a 71-yarder to Demaryius Thomas in the third quarter. It gave Denver a 14-13 lead and made Manning the third quarterback in NFL history with 400 career touchdown passes, joining Brett Favre (508) and Dan Marino (420).
Mark Sanchez threw three touchdown passes to overshadow backup quarterback Tim Tebow’s first game with the Jets. Rookie Stephen Hill caught two touchdown passes, while Jeremy Kerley caught one touchdown pass and returned a punt 68 yards for another score for the Jets, whose first-team offense had failed to score a touchdown during an 0-4 preseason.
“Looks like we were making up for lost time there, but it was nice,” Sanchez told reporters at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. “It was a great feeling, a great start, but we still have a lot of improvements to make.”
The New England Patriots beat the Tennessee Titans 34-13 to win their ninth straight season-opener -- the NFL’s longest current streak. Tom Brady threw touchdown passes to tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots, who reached the Super Bowl last season and have won the American Football Conference East title in eight of the past nine years.
With the NFL and its officials’ union unable to reach an agreement on a new labor contract, the first week of games is being called by officials from below the top level of college football. Shannon Eastin became the first female official to work a regular-season NFL game, as the line judge in the Detroit Lions’ 27-23 win against the St. Louis Rams.
The Andrew Luck era in Indianapolis started with a 41-21 loss to the Chicago Bears. Luck, taken with the first overall pick in this year’s draft after the Colts released Manning, was intercepted three times while throwing for 309 yards.
Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns as the Washington Redskins hung on for a 40-32 win in New Orleans, where the Saints had a 9-0 record last season. Griffin, who went second in the draft behind Luck, completed 19 of 26 pass attempts, including an 88-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon in the first quarter.
Luck and Griffin became the third and fourth rookie quarterbacks to pass for more than 300 on a kickoff weekend, joining Manning (302 yards in 1998) and Cam Newton, who had 422 passing yards in his debut for Carolina last year.
Rookie quarterbacks Brandon Weeden of the Cleveland Browns, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks and Ryan Tannehill of the Miami Dolphins also lost yesterday.
The Philadelphia Eagles beat the Browns 17-16 as Michael Vick recovered from four interceptions to throw a winning 4-yard touchdown pass 1:23 remaining. Weeden threw four interceptions and no touchdown passes while completing 12 of 35 passes for 118 yards. Cleveland’s first-year running back Trent Richardson, the third pick in this year’s draft, was held to 39 yards on 19 carries.
Miami lost to the Houston Texans 30-10 as Tannehill was intercepted three times, while Seattle lost 20-16 in Arizona as the Cardinals scored the winning touchdown with 4:59 left. Wilson threw three straight incompletions from the Cardinals’ 4-yard line in the closing seconds.
It was one of several opening-week games decided in the closing seconds.
The Lions beat the Rams as Matt Stafford bounced back from three interceptions to throw the winning touchdown pass with 10 seconds left, and the Minnesota Vikings beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 26-23 on Blair Walsh’s 38-yard field goal in overtime.
The Atlanta Falcons defeated Kansas City Chiefs 40-24 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Carolina Panthers 16-10 in the NFL debut of former Rutgers University coach Greg Schiano.
The regular season began Sept. 5 with the Dallas Cowboys beating the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants 24-17. The opening-week schedule concludes with two games tonight, as the Baltimore Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Diego Chargers visit the Oakland Raiders.
The Jets, after being limited to one touchdown in the preseason, opened a 21-0 lead on the Bills behind two Sanchez touchdown passes and pushed their advantage to 41-7 in the third quarter. After three second-half touchdown passes by Buffalo’s Ryan Fitzpatrick, running back Shonn Greene’s 1-yard run with 1:17 left sealed the win for New York.
Tebow rushed for 11 yards on five carries and didn’t throw a pass for New York.
The 49ers opened a 23-7 lead at Lambeau Field as Alex Smith threw two touchdown passes and held on for their first regular-season win in Green Bay, Wisconsin, since 1990.
The Patriots begin the season as the 5-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl, scheduled for Feb. 3 in New Orleans. The Packers were the 6-1 second choice at the Las Vegas Hotel’s Super Book, followed by the 49ers, Texans and Broncos at 10-1.
Green Bay is the only of those teams to open the season with a defeat, as the Packers have already matched their loss total from last year’s 15-1 campaign. Green Bay will now have a short turnaround before hosting Chicago on Sept. 13.
“As a team, when you lose, you want to get right back on the field,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “We’re ready for Thursday. I think everyone on this team feels the same way. We need to get back on the field and show what we are.”