DENVER - The Broncos had done little right, and you can admit there were nightmare visions dancing around in your head of the Baltimore Ravens invading Colorado and, once again, escaping with a victory.

Peyton Manning tossed all those fears away.

It began with one instant that revealed why Manning remains the NFL's most dangerous offensive weapon.

Yes, he's 37, but on the opening night of the NFL season, he looked 27. Or maybe younger.

The Broncos were trailing 7-0 in the second quarter when Manning retreated into the pocket, glanced at receiver Eric Decker and performed an expertly subtle pump fake.

Manning froze Ravens linebacker Daryl Smith just as tight end Julius Thomas ran by.

Manning lofted a pass into the hands of Thomas for a 24-yard touchdown, starting a deluge of scoring that silenced - for this night, anyway - all questions about the Broncos.

Is the defense too soft? Is the running attack one of the weakest in the NFL? The answers to both questions could very well be yes.

But Manning appears ready to make those questions irrelevant. At the beginning of last season, Manning looked old. Don't get me wrong.

He looked old and still masterful, but he was not the Manning of his best days.

On Thursday night, with the football nation watching along with a frenzied crowd at Mile High, Manning looked ageless.

I watched Manning torch the Broncos in the 2003 and 2004 playoffs during two of the more brutal afternoons in Colorado history.

He was superlative on those afternoons, as deadly as any quarterback in NFL history.

But I've never seen him look better than he did on Thursday night.

He was magnificent, showing once again why he belongs beside John Elway, Joe Montana, Tom Brady, Otto Graham on the list of the best quarterbacks in football history.

On the touchdown toss to Thomas, Manning showed extreme courage in the pocket, standing his ground as the 6-foot-7, 317-pound Chris Canty bore down on him.

He took a big hit from the extra-enormous Canty. He didn't care. The extra instant gave Thomas time to get open.

For the entire night, Manning's touch was exact. His throws, especially after the first quarter, were virtually flawless.

He has already developed a special kinship with Wes Welker, the diminutive receiver with the massive heart.

He was blessed, for most of the night, with strong protection from his tattered offensive line.

Of course, it will not always be this easy. The Ravens, the defending Super Bowl champs, have been depleted by retirement and free-agent raids.

And the running game must improve. Really, it must at least appear.

The Broncos gained only 20 yards rushing in the first half, and halfbacks Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman still look timid and a little lost.

But Manning makes anything possible.

Yes, he's 37.

Doesn't matter.

He defied the Ravens defense on Thursday.

He also defied age.


Twitter: @davidramz