Highlights and lowlights of NFL opening weekend

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Here's a look at the highlights and lowlights around the NFL during the opening weekend:

Highlights:

1. Peyton Manning is back.

The Denver Broncos' quarterback made an early statement in his bid for NFL Comeback Player of the Year honors.

In his first game since being cut by the Indianapolis Colts and undergoing a total of four neck surgeries, Manning manufactured a 31-19 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The four-time Most Valuable Player completed 19 of 26 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns, displaying zip on his throws and a command of the Broncos' offense. He fired a 71-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.

Manning also threw his 400th career touchdown pass, reaching the milestone faster than Dan Marino or Brett Favre did. Manning now has 401 for his career, only ranking behind Favre (508) and Marino (420) in NFL history.

Most importantly, Manning also displayed that his neck is sturdy as he was sacked twice and got up without any injury setbacks.

2. Robert Griffin III dazzles.

The Washington Redskins' rookie quarterback had a sterling debut, outdueling New Orleans Saints veteran Drew Brees to earn a 40-32 road victory.

The Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor has energized the Redskins, passing for 320 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions on 19 of 26 accuracy for a 139.9 quarterback rating.

Griffin was extremely poised and selective about when he chose to leave the protective confines of the pocket. Only once did he get hit hard.

Griffin's decision-making was sharp and he completed his first eight passes, including an 88-yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon over the middle. His timing with Garcon was superb.

Meanwhile, rookie running back Alfred Morris became the latest Mike Shanahan discovery in the backfield as the late-round draft pick rushed for 96 yards and two touchdowns.

3. Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall

Reprising their old connection from their days with the Broncos, Cutler and Marshall collaborated for nine completions, 119 yards and a touchdown in the Bears' win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The passing tandem gives the Bears a proven capability downfield to complement the running game of Matt Forte and Michael Bush.

4. Matt Ryan is sharp

The Atlanta Falcons' quarterback dominated the Kansas City Chiefs in a 40-24 victory, passing for 299 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for another.

Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones are one of the most potent tandems in the league. Jones caught six passes for 108 yards and two touchdowns.

If the Falcons keep playing this way, they're going to be a powerhouse in the NFC South.

5. Big win for 49ers

San Francisco managed to contain a usually prolific Green Bay Packers offense, keeping quarterback Aaron Rodgers from getting into a rhythm until the game was decided.

Although Rodgers completed 30 of 44 passes for 303 yards, two touchdowns and one
interception, he wasn't as productive early and faced a lot of pressure from 49ers star outside linebacker Aldon Smith.

Meanwhile, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith completed 20 of 26 passes for 211 yards and two
touchdowns, including a scoring toss to Randy Moss.

Running back Frank Gore contributed 112 yards and a touchdown.

And kicker David Akers tied an NFL record with a 63-yard field goal that caromed off the crossbar through the uprights. The other kickers to make 63-yarders: Sebastian Janikowski, Jason Elam and Tom Dempsey.

Lowlights:

1. Ben Roethlisberger's interception.

Rushing a throw into coverage, the Steelers quarterback got picked off by Broncos cornerback Tracy Porter in the closing minutes.

The 43-yard interception return by Porter, who once returned a Peyton Manning interception for a touchdown in the Super Bowl when he was playing for New Orleans, put the game away for Denver.

Afterward, Roethlisberger correctly characterized the situation: He should have called a
timeout to get the ofense settled down.

2. Mixed debut for Andrew Luck

Although the Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback completed 23 of 45 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown, with nine completions to Reggie Wayne for 135 yards, Luck struggled with turnovers.

Luck uncorked three interceptions, lost a fumble and held the football a bit too long. He was sacked three times.

Two of his interceptions went to Bears cornerback Tim Jennings.

Overall, Luck has a ton of promise, but there are still some things to clean up.

3. Saints' defense struggles

The Saints look extremely vulnerable on defense, particularly against the run.

Despite the acquisition of middle linebacker Curtis Lofton, the Saints got punished upfront as they allowed 153 rushing yards on 44 carries.

The Saints ranked 29th against the run last year, so it doesn't look like there's
been any improvement.

4. Chris Johnson disappears

The Tennessee Titans' star running back ran into a brick wall.

He rushed for a career-worst 4 yards on 11 carries as the Titans finished with 20 yards on 16 carries in a loss to the New England Patriots.

The last time we checked, the Patriots' defense wasn't evocative of the legendary "Steel Curtain."

Meanwhile, the Patriots discovered a featured runner as Stevan Ridley gained 125 yards on 21 carries.

A former 2,000-yard rusher, Johnson has to be involved effectively for the Titans' offense to work as new quarterback Jake Locker learns on the job.

5. Replacement officials.

Filling in for the regular referees due to an NFL lockout, replacement officials mistakenly gave the Seattle Seahawks an extra timeout during the final minute of the game.

The gaffe stemmed from the requirement that teams use a timeout for an injured player. Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin got hurt, then two plays later Seattle coach Pete Carroll was allowed to call a fourth timeout.

Although the Seahawks didn't capitalize on the opportunity late in the game during their 20-16 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, referee Bruce Hermansen acknowledged afterward that he made a mistake.

Meanwhile, the replacement officials called 18 penalties during the Green Bay-San Francisco game, raising the ire of combustible 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh.

And Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers described the penalties as bizarre.

awilson@baltsun.com

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