CHICAGO | A quality quarterback fills seats and gives the NFL Network reason to like you even more.
The Bears have Jay Cutler, in his fourth season and considered the best QB in franchise history though he hasn't won anything yet.
Thursday night, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos visited Soldier Field in the preseason opener for both teams. Denver won 31-3.
The Bears were surprisingly flat, trailing 24-0 after three quarters and outgained in total net yardage 270-97 on Matt Prater's 28-yard field goal, short touchdown runs by Lance Ball and Xavier Dmon, and Brock Osweller's 19-yard TD throw to Jason Hill.
“He was remarkable,” Denver coach John Fox said of Manning's first drive. “He's come back and worked very hard. He hasn't played football in (almost) two years.
“It was a good first drive given the sloppy conditions.”
For Manning, Thursday marked the four-time MVP's first game since the AFC's 55-41 loss to the NFC in the Jan. 30, 2011 Pro Bowl – 19 months ago.
Manning missed all of last season with a nerve injury in his neck that weakened his ability to throw and eventually was released by the Indianapolis Colts, who drafted him in 1998.
After successful neck surgery, he is back.
“It's serious business out there Thursday night. There's jobs being competed for and jobs people are trying to keep,” Manning told the Broncos web site on Tuesday. “We all have something to play for.”
Both teams' offensive starters were limited to one series while the backups were the main focus of coaches, neither or whom was going to show much.
Manning begins his 14th season having thrown for 4,000 or more yards in 11 of the previous 13. Think Denver fans are excited?
With the 2006 Super Bowl MVP now the main attraction, the Broncos have drawn 74,209 fans to camp and with five public practices remaining, should easily double their old record of 45,124 set last year with Tim Tebow.
Manning played only the first series, completing 4-of-7 passes for 44 yards. On a third-and-17 at the Bears' 33, he connected with wide receiver Eric Decker for a 19-yard gain.
D.J. Moore then tipped a Manning throw which Major Wright recovered at the Chicago 4 to end the threat.
But the Bears gave it right back on a Michael Bush fumble that Von Miller recovered and took to the Chicago 6.
Manning was replaced by former Bears' backup Caleb Hanie, who misfired on three consecutive throws to set up Prater's field goal.
The Bears played without quarterback Jay Cutler, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (knee), defensive end Julius Peppers and running back Matt Forte.
First-round pick Shea McClellin took advantage with his first NFL sack, slamming Hanie for a 10-yard loss late in the first quarter.
Jason Campbell, Josh McCown and Matt Blanchard shared QB duties the remainder of the way. Robbie Gould's 47-yard field goal early in the final period prevented a shutout.
“We were going up against a tremendous defense. They did a good job of covering us up early on,” Campbell said at halftime. “We're not trying to do anything to really show our hand or show what we have right now.”