Peyton Manning returned to the NFL, playing one series in his Broncos debut. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

But there he was, in new clothes, playing for the first time in 19 months because of a series of procedures on his neck. The upside? He led the Broncos on a drive in his one series. The downside? The drive ended in an interception. Bottom line: He completed four-of-seven passes on 11 plays for 44 yards in Denver’s 31-3 victory over the Bears in Chicago.

“Considering where I was a year ago, the fact that I was out there and took a snap, completed some passes today, it’s been a long haul for me,” Manning said. “That was rewarding. Even that first snap, the very first play, that was a big step for me.”

Assessing his health is something he dealt with — and something he’d like to put behind him. “I know when we get to Pittsburgh [for the regular-season “Sunday Night Football” opener], it’ll all be about the game, and I won’t be too reflective,” he said.

How did he look? He threw behind a couple of receivers and his night ended unpleasantly with that interception. What came through after the game was Manning’s near-palpable relief, a virtual acknowledgment that his comeback had been a longshot at times as he credited the work of his trainers and doctors.

At least Manning’s sense of humor is up to speed. He joked about shaking off the rust and the pass that took a circuitous route through the hands of a Bears defender and on to Jacob Tamme.

“Maybe in some ways, I’ve even gotten better,” Manning said. “Now I have the ability to throw a ball into a linebacker’s hands and tip it to my own player. So maybe that’s a positive.”

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