By Rich Kurtzman
Peyton Manning is magnificent.
It seems silly now, but if you think back to March, when Manning was courting multiple teams, his health was a serious question mark. The 36-year-old – which is ancient in football age – was coming off many neck surgeries and sat out the entire season before. Did he still possess the arm strength to play in the NFL? Was he mentally prepared to play? Could he take a hit? These were the questions surrounding Manning, and when the old gunslinger was knocked to the turf twice in the preseason, he jumped up as though to prove to everyone he was just fine.
As it turned out, he was better than fine, No. 18 was arguably the No. 1 quarterback in the NFL this season.
He finished the regular season first in completion percentage (68.8), second in passer rating (105.8), third in touchdowns (37) and sixth in yards (4,659), setting single-season Broncos franchise records for yards, completions and touchdowns thrown. Manning also broke numerous NFL records. His 38 comebacks are more than Elway’s. In the win over Kansas City, it was the 73rd time he threw for 3 TDs in a game, passing Brett Favre for most all time. He was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week, extending his own record to 22 times. And when the season was all said and done, he had led a team to 10-plus wins for the 12th time, while being voted into the Pro Bowl – with the most votes – for a 12th time as well.
It’s not all about the jaw-dropping stats from Manning though, it’s how he got to those notable numbers.
Manning came into Denver and took the reins of the Broncos from Day One. He’s a consummate leader, and it was evident he earned the respect of not only his teammates but coaches and even Broncos legend John Elway. He rekindled old relationships with Brandon Stokley – who probably wouldn’t have come out of retirement if it weren’t for longtime friend Peyton – and Jacob Tamme, making them important pieces to the Broncos offensive puzzle. More crucial, though, was sparking new relationships with the many more fresh faces, demanding more from them than anyone had before. Demaryius Thomas has blown up this season, while Eric Decker set a Broncos single-season record with his 21 touchdown catches. Even Dan Koppen, who was signed and was forced into the starting role mid-season due to an injury to J.D. Walton, is on the same page as Peyton.
He literally led on the football field; not only audibling and to change the play into something more successful, but by coaching his offensive linemen, receivers and running backs during TV timeouts and on the sideline between drives. He couldn’t wait until film study the following day, Manning is a perfectionist, and those in-game adjustments were a reason why Denver was never out of a game. He gives teammates confidence with his stellar play, overall boosting the Broncos to a level unseen in 15 years. He’s so popular you can see him in ads for Buick, Papa John’s and more, while he’s like a spokesman for the team, doing more interviews than any other player. In those interviews, his message is consistent, that the team must focus on the task and team at hand. It’s why Denver has been able to run off 11 straight wins – they don’t overlook any opponent, no matter how bad they look on paper.
Peyton Manning should win the NFL’s MVP, yet he was quick to thank teammates for the way they played saying, “I’m very grateful for the help I’ve gotten and I’m very appreciative of the effort our players have made this year.”
Now Manning and his teammates eye a Super Bowl, needing only two more home wins to make the championship game for the franchise’s seventh time.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.