Manning smirked, shaking his head. The laughter humanized him, if only for a moment. If not for those commercials, it would be hard to believe Manning's not a machine.
He doesn't power his way down the field. He thinks his way through defenses. He doesn't lead drives. He engineers them.
Manning turned the buzz around the opening of Levi's Stadium to buzzkill with cold efficiency in the Broncos' 34-0 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
"He makes me better in practice and doesn't know it," said safety T.J. Ward after the third-most lopsided preseason win in team history. "When defenses face him, man, they don't even know what they are in for."
Exhibition games create odd prisms for viewing, with players missing and schemes simplified. There's a lot of four-man pressures and scant blitzes. Manning against vanilla defense is like Will Hunting in an eighth-grade algebra class.
Forget building arm strength or his pitch count, the reigning NFL MVP showed he's ready for the regular season with a 12-for-14 performance for 102 yards and a touchdown.
He played two series. The Broncos scored on both. He might not participate much this Saturday against the Houston Texans, he said, depending on how practices go against them this week at Dove Valley.
"I think there's something to learn from each preseason game you have," Manning said. "It's been a good start, but that's all it is."
Three plays resonated in the franchise's eighth preseason shutout and first since 2009.
On the first possession, Manning faced a third-and-8 at the 47-yard-line. It was under similar circumstances that he turned the preseason opener on its head with key conversions against Seattle. Manning made a quick drop and fired a dart over the middle to Wes Welker, zipping it through a small window. Manning didn't throw that pass much a year ago, confirming what his receivers have been saying since the end of OTAs in June: his arm strength continues to improve two years removed from neck surgeries.
A classic rub play to Demaryius Thomas set up the first score, a 26-yard field goal by Matt Prater. Point proven with Thomas — yeah, he's ready for the season, too — Manning decided to widen the spotlight's lens.
"It's not a surprise. That's how it's been the last two years," Thomas said. "He'll go to one guy,then switch when we get to the red zone."
Manning's final pass stood out as his easiest. Tight end Julius Thomas raced down the middle untouched and unguarded on a seam route. Defensive back Craig Dahl waved helplessly as if chasing a wayward ice cream truck on the first touchdown scored at the new stadium.
"I am honored to be part of a trivia question," Thomas said.
Manning's preseason stats read like a 7-on-7 drill: 22-for-27, 180 yards. Can the Broncos just zip Manning in his hyperbaric chamber until the Sept. 7 opener against the Colts?
"He's a legend," 49ers safety Jimmie Ward said. "I have to give him that."
Salient in this win were the complementary parts. The Broncos are never going to be a power running team, but they continue to inch toward balance. Ronnie Hillman started and finished with 19 yards, and C.J. Anderson, cleared from his concussion, finished with 29 yards, the pair outshining camp sensation Juwan Thompson.
Manning's afternoon featured rhythm because the defense got off the field on third down. The Broncos' unit held quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers' first-teamers, including blanket coverage by nickelback Omar Bolden on a third-down incompletion.
"Preseason or not, when it's ones going against ones, it's like a game until you are off the field," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "Although we didn't play four quarters, we can definitely take something from this."
The remaining three quarters played out like the annual scrimmage at Mile High at Sports Authority Field last month, quarterbacks passing the baton. Brock Osweiler finished 10-of-13 for 105 yards, connecting with rookie Cody Latimer on a 33-yard touchdown. When tight end Cameron Morrah scored with 2:35 remaining, the seats were nearly empty, a concession to Denver's performance.
"The Niners are a great team," Ward said, "and we just came out and made a little statement today."
Troy E. Renck: email@example.com or twitter.com/troyrenck