Thursday NFL preseason: Broncos vs. Bears Peyton Manning returns vs. Bears

By Jim Donahue

Peyton Manning makes his triumphant return to the National Football League Thursday night in Chicago, IL. He has a long way to go getting back, and even more so in the battle for sibling rivalry with his brother Eli. The New York Giants are the reigning Super Bowl Champs, and Eli is the reigning Superbowl Mvp. A tough act to follow for sure.

After sitting out all of last season following yet another neck surgery and then getting waived the Indianapolis Colts, the only team he has ever known, Peyton Manning returns to NFL action on Thursday night in the Denver Broncos ’ preseason opener at Chicago. The Bears are 3-point favorites.

Never mind those four neck surgeries, 19 months off, a new offense and new teammates to get acquainted with and the fact he is 36. He still is Peyton Manning. And his impact on this team is palpable in many ways.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who was Manning’s teammate with the Colts for four years and has joined forces with him again here, says Manning’s presence gives the Broncos a chance to be great.

“With a guy like that moving at the pace he moves, it forces everyone to move at his pace,” defensive end Elvis Dumervil said.

This is what the Broncos hoped for in the offseason when they gave Manning a five-year, $96 million contract after he rejected the Chiefs, Dolphins, Jets, Redskins Seahawks, Titans and 49ers for them.

Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who coached the defense for Denver head coach John Fox’s Carolina squad in 2002, enters his first year with the Broncos following nine seasons as Jacksonville’s head coach. Denver’s current active roster features 39 new players, including 19 veteran free agents, 12 college free agents, seven draft selections, and one trade acquisition.

For the Bears, it will be the debut of new receiver Brandon Marshall, acquired this offseason from the Dolphins. Marshall had his best seasons while in Denver with current Bears QB Jay Cutler.

One player who won’t be on the field for Chicago on Thursday is linebacker Brian Urlacher. He has missed the past six practices and is out. Urlacher sprained the medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee seven months ago in the 2011 regular-season finale, and the team wants to take its time with putting Urlacher back out on the field.

Coach Lovie Smith said the team expected Urlacher to experience soreness in the knee, which is what’s transpired throughout training camp.

Both the Broncos and Bears finished last season 8-8. Denver won the AFC West thanks to Tim Tebow. The Bears started 7-3 but their season went in the tank when Cutler was lost for the season with a thumb injury.

The Broncos own a 24-28 all-time record in preseason openers, including a 12-12 mark in away games. Denver also is 9-9 at home and 3-7 at neutral sites in preseason openers. The Broncos have won 12 of their last 17 preseason openers.



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