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Because practice counts, a shaky thumbs-up for Broncos QB Peyton Manning

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Broncos QB Peyton Manning has looked sharp in practice so far, but less so in the two preseason games he's played. Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire

A quick observation of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and how he’s played in preparation for the season opener on Sept. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens.

This is decidedly a tale of two realities. There is Manning’s work in practice, often against what will be one of the best defenses in the league this season. And in practice Manning has been largely sharp, accurate both in the pocket and on the move with good pop on his throws.

And then there are Manning’s 63 snaps worth of work in the preseason -- 21 against the Houston Texans to go with 42 against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night. In nine full possessions (the 10th was a one-play possession to end the first half against 49ers) with Manning behind center, the No. 1 offense had no touchdowns, two field goals, six punts and an interception.

Manning was sacked three times by the 49ers, including twice by linebacker NaVorro Bowman in a four-play span. Manning has looked unsettled, as opposing defenses have been able to create pressure in the middle of the field -- a tidy little item that derailed the Broncos’ offense at times last season.

So the proof is always in what happens in the regular season. And even last year when Manning's play down the stretch was spotty, he threw for 4,727 yards (fourth in the league) to go with 39 touchdowns (second in the league). He has a streak of eight consecutive 4,000-yard seasons in which he's played -- not counting when he missed the entire 2011 season to injury -- including all three with the Broncos. And he has never thrown for fewer than 3,739 yards in any season he’s been behind center.

History says that even at age 39, in a new offense, as he makes some physical concessions, Manning will adapt at least some and be productive. But make no mistake: If the Broncos and Manning don’t find a way to mesh -- as in the next few weeks -- and make the new playbook work, the season will not be what they’ve believed it could be since the offseason program began.