Michael Conroy/The Associated Press
Michael Conroy/The Associated Press
CHICAGO – Peyton Manning’s first appearance with the Denver Broncos was brief and a bit uneven.
Manning got intercepted near the goal line on the game’s opening possession and watched from the sideline the rest of the way as Denver beat the Chicago Bears 31-3 in the preseason opener on Thursday night.
All eyes were on Manning, and the results were mixed for the four-time MVP. Considering he missed all of last season with a nerve injury in his neck that weakened his throwing arm and led to his tearful farewell from the Indianapolis Colts, it hardly was a surprise.
Manning is trying to show he still has something left with Denver, and all things considered, Broncos coach John Fox was impressed.
“He was remarkable,” Fox said. “He came back, he’s worked very hard. He hasn’t played football in (almost) two years. I thought it was a good first drive in these conditions – it was sloppy. It was sloppy by the receivers as far as the conditions, but I thought it was a very good first outing.”
On a cool and rainy night, Manning completed 4 of 7 passes for 44 yards but didn’t have to contend with Julius Peppers or Brian Urlacher. He had all the time he needed, too, so it remains to be seen how he’ll handle a big hit.
But even with little pressure, he still was a bit off target against Chicago.
On the game’s first play from scrimmage, his pass was broken up by Chicago’s Lance Briggs, and his second nearly was picked off, too. The Bears’ Geno Hayes tipped the ball near midfield, but Jacob Tamme hauled it in for a 12-yard gain to the Chicago 39.
After a short run by Willis McGahee, Manning found Eric Decker on the left for 10 yards. A 19-yarder to Decker a few plays later put the ball on the 14, and the Broncos looked like they were poised to score.
Instead, on third down at the 12, Manning got picked off when Denver’s Brandon Stokley deflected a pass, and Major Wright dived for the interception at the 2. Wright then left the game with a hamstring injury.
Manning was finished for the night, too, and that brought the biggest story to a close.
Another big angle never materialized. That was the Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall reunion.
They put up big numbers in Denver, and they’re back together after the Bears acquired Marshall from Miami. That blockbuster trade gave Cutler the go-to target he’s lacked since he arrived from the Broncos and sent expectations soaring in Chicago after a disappointing 8-8 finish. But instead of a first look, fans got a rain check.
Cutler warmed up but sat out, one day after his fiancée Kristin Cavallari gave birth to a boy named Camden Jack.
Running back Matt Forte and Peppers also were in uniform but did not play. Urlacher, meanwhile, wasn’t expected to play after missing time in six practices because of his injured left knee and for personal reasons and was not on the sideline.
With their star quarterback and running back watching, the Bears managed just 41 yards in the first half and trailed 10-0 at the break.
Marshall caught just one pass for 4 yards. Jason Campbell completed 4 of 5 for 13 yards before Josh McCown relieved him, and Michael Bush carried three times for 2 yards in his first appearance as a Bear.
He also lost a fumble in the first quarter to Bronco’s linebacker Von Miller, which led to a 28-yard field goal from Matt Prater to put the first points of the game on the board.
Colorado State University alumnus Caleb Hanie then came in for Manning and immediately was booed by Chicago fans for failing last year after Cutler suffered a season-ending thumb injury. Besides the field goal, he led the Broncos on a 57-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter and wound up going 7 for 14 for 79 yards.
The Broncos will play the Seattle Seahawks at 7 p.m. on Aug. 18 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for their second preseason outing.
Nam Y. Huh/The Associated Press