There was an unfamiliar air of uncertainty surrounding Peyton Manning's debut as a Denver Bronco on Sunday night. From 1999 through 2010, Manning defined the quarterback position, throwing for over 50,000 yards with an adjusted net yards per passing attempt (per Pro-Football-Reference) of 7.24. Only Philip Rivers's 7.26 mark bests Manning, and Rivers did it in 112 fewer starts and with a higher percentage of his play coming in the recent League of the Quarterback.
For the first time since Manning opened 2010 with the Colts, we really just didn't know what to expect. Sure, "he's Peyton Manning," but multiple neck surgeries have the potential to derail any sports career, uch less one as fragile as NFL quarterback. There was talk he had become a reverse Zoolander -- instead of losing his ability to turn left, rumors mounted that Manning had lost the ability to throw to his right.
In that case, Sunday night's performance against the Steelers was Manning's Magnum.
Manning completed 19 of his 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns. His performance was the driving force behind the Broncos' victory -- each of his touchdowns gave the Broncos a lead, once in the third quarter and once in the fourth. Overall, Manning ended up with a 0.80 WPA, a 16.4 EPA and an 8.6 AYPA -- first, fourth and fifth respectively among quarterbacks in the opening week.
Manning produced a multitude of incredible performances throughout his career, and Sunday night's measures up well against his body of work from Indianapolis:
Manning was above his own lofty career average in every notable passing statistic outside of raw passing yardage; out of 188 total games, Sunday's ranked fifth in WPA, fourth in success rate, 40th in AYPA, 31st in EPA/P, 44th in EPA and 53rd in completion percentage -- at least in the top 28% of Manning's best games (note: Advanced NFL Stats's numbers don't go back far enough to include Manning's first two seasons).
Even though Manning was the driving force behind the Broncos' offense, there wasn't undue pressure on the 36-year-old. The Broncos ran the ball 27 times against 26 passing attempts, a pittance for Manning's Colts:
And for good measure, this performance even comes against an ostensibly good defense. Pittsburgh ranked sixth in EPA/P against the pass last year and fourth two years ago. Of course, things change and players age, but the Steelers have been one of the league's constants in this area and it will take more than one bad week before we declare them dead.
The question of whether or not Peyton Manning can hold up to a full NFL season after the trials surrounding the past year remains. But at least the Broncos can be confident that as long as Manning stays on the field, he should be the productive force they brought him in to be.