DENVER -- The Broncos offense wasn't on the field for long during Sunday's season-opener at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
In fact, the group saw just 36 seconds of action in the third quarter, and the Pittsburgh Steelers won the overall time-of-posession battle by more than 10 minutes.
But when quarterback
"We thought it was important when we got the ball back, we had to be efficient," Manning said.
After two first-quarter punts,
Pittsburgh got on the board first in the second quarter, as a long punt return by Antonio Brown set the Steelers up with prime field position at the Denver 38-yard line. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers offense all the way to the 3-yard line, but the Denver defense held thanks to a leaping pass breakup by cornerback
The Broncos responded to the field goal by driving 80 yards down the field for an answer. Manning completed 6-of-7 passes on the drive, which was capped off by a 7-yard
Pittsburgh closed the half with a drive that featured four third-down conversions, the last of which was a 4-yard touchdown strike from Roethlisberger to tight end Heath Miller.
Third-down conversions were a theme for Pittsburgh throughout the game -- the Steelers converted on 11 of their 19.
"Roethlisberger was awesome on third down," Manning said. "I certainly have seen that before throughout his career. He does a great job of extending plays. You get out to warm up, kind of getting ready on third-and-15, and he converts them, and you go back and sit down again. Yeah, obviously, it was frustrating."
The Steelers' two second-quarter drives took nine minutes and 38 seconds off the clock. The club nearly matched that with one drive in the third quarter -- a 16-play, 74-yard drive that took 8:55 of game time to start the second half.
But the defense held strong, forcing a field goal to keep it a one-possession game -- 13-7.
“We were tested against Seattle (in the preseason) with a really long drive – a (14)-play drive up here in the altitude,"
And the offense was ready to strike when it finally got on the field.
“We came in (at halftime) and made some adjustments," said wide receiver
It started quickly, as Manning hit Thomas on a quick screen pass that turned into a 71-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown to retake the lead, 14-13.
The play, which finished off a two-play scoring drive, was reminiscent of Thomas' 80-yard catch-and-run touchdown to send the Steelers home in the Wild Card Round of the 2011 AFC Playoffs.
"It wasn’t quite the same, but it was a good one," Thomas smiled.
The touchdown was Manning's first as a Bronco, and 400th of his career. The four-time NFL MVP joined Brett Favre and Dan Marino as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to throw 400 touchdowns in a career, and Manning did so in fewer games than either of the other two signal callers.
That two-play drive was the extent of the Denver offense's work in the third quarter, as Pittsburgh held the ball for 14:24 of the 15 minutes in the frame. But the fourth quarter belonged to the Broncos.
Roethlisberger capped off another scoring drive -- which spanned the third and fourth quarters -- with a 3-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Mike Wallace, but the ensuing two-point conversion was unsuccessful thanks to defensive tackle
At that point, Pittsburgh led 19-14, but the Steelers wouldn't find paydirt again.
Manning and the Broncos offense responded with a 10-play, 80-yard drive highlighted by a 14-yard pass to wide receiver
"The offense kind of gave us a little relief moving the ball down the field, we got our legs up under us and just went out there and did what we had to do, plain and simple," cornerback
The defense immediately forced a three-and-out, and Manning and the offense got right back to work, driving 51 yards down the field for a Prater field goal to extend the lead.
Cornerback Tracy Porter essentially sealed the win when he jumped a Roethlisberger pass intended for wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown.
"Tracy is a man that steps up and he owns up to his word," linebacker
"I think this team is still forming its identity," Manning said. "As you're feeling yourself out, feeling the team out, when you can get a win in that process, that’s a nice thing. Like I said, we’ve got an extremely tough schedule, going on the road (next week) to Atlanta, but it’ll be nice to go in there 1-0 as opposed to 0-1."