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Despite the rust, it’s still Peyton Place

By Steve Corkran, Contra Costa Times –

Two games into the season, the myriad questions about Peyton Manning’s return are starting to be answered.

To no one’s surprise, his ability to orchestrate an offense remains flawless, as he demonstrated while guiding the Denver Broncos to a season-opening victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yet questions about his arm strength surfaced after he floated three interceptions in a Week 2 loss to Atlanta.

Then there’s the matter of Manning’s durability. He still hasn’t taken a massive hit, so no one is certain how his neck — four surgeries later — will hold up in the long run.

Denver coach John Fox, teammates and former quarterback Phil Simms were quick to point out that adjusting to his new team and questionable decision-making probably had more to do with Manning’s face-plant against the Falcons than his arm strength. (He actually has completed a league-best 82.9 percent of his passes outside the painted numbers).

“No one talked about arm strength after the Pittsburgh game,” said Denver receiver Brandon Stokley, a teammate of Manning’s in Indianapolis.

From the view here, Manning looks like the Manning of old, deciphering defenses from the line of scrimmage, making adjustments on the fly and putting his team in favorable positions.

Sure, he still is shaking off the rust after missing all of last season and is learning a new system.

Manning’s toughest test so far comes Sunday, when the Houston Texans and their top-ranked defense invade Denver.

Manning has dominated the Texans — 42 touchdowns vs. eight interceptions. A solid showing against them would help silence the critics and make upcoming opponents view Manning in a different light.

Here he comes, Raiders.

— As the impasse drags on between the NFL and its officials, both sides are cranking up the rhetoric.

“The management of the games gets tougher (in the coming weeks),” former referee Jerry Markbreit said in a radio interview. “These guys have relied on competent, top-notch, terrific officials all these years. And now they have a bunch of amateurs out there, and it’s going to fall apart.”

ESPN broadcasters didn’t sugarcoat their criticism of the replacement officials during the Monday night game after things got out of hand several times.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said he is sympathetic toward the officials being thrust into a difficult situation.

“We’ve discussed it and discussed it openly, and the reality is these guys have a job to do and they’re trying to do it to the best of their ability,” Tomlin said. “They didn’t create this situation, they’re just simply taking advantage of an opportunity and doing the best that they can with it.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the replacement officials are going to get better as the season progresses.

Markbreit’s take? “It’s going to get worse.”

— The company that was prepared to build a stadium in Los Angeles to attract an NFL team is for sale.

The Anschutz Entertainment Group owns the Los Angeles Kings, Los Angeles Galaxy and Staples Center, but it apparently has given up on a bid to get in on the riches of the NFL.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said AEG’s sale won’t affect the city’s plan to pursue an NFL team.

Raiders owner Mark Davis said in January that relocating to Los Angeles is a “possibility” and that he has had discussions with people in Southern California. The Raiders’ lease with the Coliseum expires after the 2013 season.

The San Diego Chargers are another team with a tenuous existence in their city. It is difficult to envision things working out with San Diego anytime soon, especially on the heels of the 2-0 Chargers failing to sell out a game against the 2-0 Falcons.

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