DENVER -- Saturday afternoon, quarterback Peyton Manning jogged out of the tunnel at Sports Authority Field at Mile High for the fifth time in his career.
This time, it was as a member of the Denver Broncos. And the record-setting crowd roared its support with a standing ovation as Manning took the field for Saturday's Summer Scrimmage.
"The fans were great today," Manning said. "Like I've said all along, just from playing here as an opponent, I've always known these fans are very passionate about football. I've always believed players can feed off the fans, and I know the fans will play an important role this season."
During the scrimmage, Manning was on the field for just 14 plays -- but they featured plenty of highlights for both the offense and defense.
It all started with a play-action pass deep downfield toward wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. It fell incomplete, but Manning hoped it still sent a message.
"I think when you throw a deep ball early in the game, even if you don't hit it, hopefully it sends a message that you are going to go deep," he said. "Hopefully that can back the corners off a little bit. Take the short stuff from there, then come back to it late."
Other highlights included tough running by Willis McGahee -- featuring a brutal stiff-arm of cornerback Drayton Florence -- a diving catch by wide receiver Brandon Stokley, pressure applied by linebacker Von Miller, defensive end Robert Ayers and defensive tackle Mitch Unrein on separate plays and a near interception by safety David Bruton.
But the play of the day was Manning's 14th and final rep.
The veteran quarterback made a number of checks at the line as he read the defense, which got the Sports Authority Field crowd fired up. With the play clock nearing zero, Manning took the snap, dropped back and fired to wide receiver Eric Decker's back shoulder in the front corner of the end zone. Decker hauled it in with both feet in bounds to cap off the first-team offense's drive with a touchdown.
"I thought Decker's back-shoulder touchdown catch was awesome," Manning said. "It was excellent coverage by Florence, but Decker did a good job kind of holding his eyes until the last minute. Back-shoulder fades are a hard route to cover. That was something he and I have been working on, so it was good to put that into play today."
After practice, Manning explained why he waited until the end of the clock on that particular play. Throughout the scrimmage, the quarterbacks received their plays from Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy through the "headphones" in their helmet -- as they would during a game. Before his touchdown to Decker, Manning's headphones went out.
"Instead of burning the timeout, Coach McCoy just told me, 'If the phones go down, just call something that you like,'" Manning said. "The defense was blitzing, kind of showing man-to-man. Obviously with one-on-one on the outside, Decker and Thomas have to win. That was a good play to see out of that guy today."
With a full presume routine, plays coming in through his helmet and the crowd at full tilt, Manning said Saturday felt like a game. That can only be a benefit as the team travels to Chicago for its first preseason game on Thursday.
"I know players were pumped, they were kind of feeding off the energy of the fans," Manning said of the scrimmage. "Everybody was into it.
"It will be a good film to learn from on Monday once we study. I thought there were some good things, some things we needed to work on, obviously, but overall, it was a productive day."