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He got a big assist from another free agent, cornerback Tracy Porter, whose 43-yard interception return of Ben Roethlisberger’s pass with two minutes left sealed the win.
Manning, jettisoned by the Indianapolis Colts in March after missing all of last season with a nerve injury that weakened his throwing arm, took just two snaps in the third quarter. But one was a 71-yard touchdown throw to Demaryius Thomas, Manning’s first as a Bronco and the 400th of his career.
Manning spent much of his night on the sideline as Roethlisberger led a clock-chewing offence that had the ball for 10 minutes longer than Denver did. At one point, Roethlisberger had taken 30 snaps to Manning’s one — a kneel-down — during two monstrous drives that spanned halftime.
“Roethlisberger was awesome on third down,” Manning said of Pittsburgh’s 11-of-19 conversion rate. “Wasn’t much fun sitting on the bench there all night. Great job by our defence in the end, getting that turnover.”
When he was between the lines, Manning was masterful.
He led Denver on three straight 80-yard touchdown drives and had the Broncos at the Steelers 8 when his next drive stalled and they settled for Matt Prater’s short field goal and a 25-19 lead with three minutes left.
Porter stepped in front of Emmanuel Sanders and returned an interception 43 yards for the score a minute later, and Roethlisberger was sacked three times on his last possession after going down just twice all night.
Coach John Fox called Porter’s pick “the biggest play of the game.”
The Steelers converted some very long third downs as Denver’s defence grew fatigued.
Manning was sacked twice and both times bounced right up with no issues.