Peyton Manning returned from a yearlong absence looking as if he had never been away.
Manning led four scoring drives, completing a go-ahead touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, and the Denver Broncos pulled away to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 31-19 Sunday night.
"It definitely is a special win," Manning said. "I know how hard I've worked and how many people have helped me in this process, and I'm grateful and appreciative of the moment and opportunity."
The NFL's only four-time MVP, who missed his final season in Indianapolis after undergoing a series of operations to repair a neck injury, Manning completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdown passes, including the 400th of his career. Brett Favre (508) and Dan Marino (420) are the only other players in NFL history to reach the milestone.
"It's an individual record, but I accept it on behalf of many great teammates and coaches," said Manning, who joined the Broncos as a free agent in March following his release by the Colts.
"Dan Marino and Brett Favre are two of my favorite players of all time, two of the best quarterbacks of all time. I don't really feel comfortable being in that company, but to be mentioned among them, it's truly humbling and quite an honor."
Ben Roethlisberger finished 22 of 40 for 245 yards and two touchdowns. However, he was sacked five times and threw an interception on a hastily run play, and Tracy Porter returned the pick 43 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
"I should have called timeout," Roethlisberger said. "The play clock was running down and I hate to burn timeouts, but I should have because we were kind of all over the place. But there's no one to blame but myself. I already told my teammates and coaches that it was my fault and it's on me. It's disappointing. I hate to let my team down, my coaches, the fans, but that loss is squarely on my shoulders."
Trailing 14-13 after three quarters, the Steelers regained the lead 19-14 in the opening seconds of the fourth when Roethlisberger finished a drive with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace.
Again, Manning had an answer, leading the Broncos on their third touchdown drive of the night. The Broncos weathered a replay review ultimately confirming that wide receiver Eric Decker lost the ball at the Steelers' 1-yard line only after it hit the ground. Manning then hit tight end Jacob Tamme, one of the quarterback's former Indianapolis teammates, for his second scoring pass of the night.
Manning completed a pass to Willis McGahee for a two-point conversion that put the Broncos in front 22-19 with 9:23 left.
"What can you say? It's Peyton Manning. He's the same Manning. I don't know how else to explain it," Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said.
Matt Prater added a 26-yard field goal for the Broncos with three minutes left, and cornerback Porter sealed it when he stepped in front of Emmanuel Sanders to intercept Roethlisberger's pass and take it for a touchdown with 1:58 to play. Porter earlier deflected a pass that prevented a completion to a wide-open Heath Miller in the end zone.
After Pittsburgh went in front 13-7 on Shaun Suisham's second field goal midway through the third quarter, the Broncos struck quickly to go back in front.
Manning faked a run up the middle to McGahee and tossed the ball in the flat to Demaryius Thomas, who shot past a secondary frozen by the play fake. The catch-and-run went 71 yards for a touchdown and gave Manning his 400th career scoring pass.
"It was a good one," Thomas said. "I talked to him (Manning) after the game and said, 'You're going to let me keep the ball right?' He got one of the game balls, so he gave me that ball. That's great to be able to catch his 400th. Hopefully he'll sign it for me. I can go back and show my grandkids in the record book."
Roethlisberger, side-stepping pressure, twice converted third-and-long situations to extend a second-quarter drive that he finished with a third-down completion to Miller for a 4-yard touchdown and a 10-7 halftime lead.
Manning, turning to the no-huddle that he used with tremendous success during his 14 years in Indianapolis, led an 80-yard touchdown drive that put the Broncos up 7-3 midway through the second quarter on Knowshon Moreno's 7-yard scoring run.
The Steelers hit the scoreboard on a 21-yard field goal by Suisham with 10:10 left in the first quarter.
The Pittsburgh defense took a hit before the game started when pass-rushing linebacker James Harrison was listed among the team's inactive players because of a knee injury. Safety Ryan Clark also sat out because of a sickle cell trait that could sicken him if he played in Denver's mile-high altitude. Running back Rashard Mendenhall, coming off a knee injury suffered at the end of last season, also was deactivated.
The Broncos were without linebacker D.J. Williams, their leading tackler in four of the past five seasons, who began a six-game suspension related to violating the league's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.
NOTES: Manny Ramirez started at right guard for Chris Kuper, the only Bronco listed on the team's pregame injury report. Kuper suffered a broken bone in his left forearm during training camp last month. ... During the weekend, the Broncos released quarterback Caleb Hanie, leaving rookie Brock Osweiler as Manning's backup. ... Broncos defensive tackle Ty Warren left in the second quarter with an elbow injury. ... Steelers offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert sustained a left knee injury in the second quarter. ... Pittsburgh guard Ramon Foster also went out in the second with an eye injury. ... Denver rookie defensive end Derek Wolfe had his first career sack when he took down Roethlisberger in the opening quarter.