ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – John Elway insisted that every one of the Denver Broncos was better the second Peyton Manning put his signature on that nearly $100 million contract last spring.
Indeed, all have prospered from the arrival of the meticulous quarterback whose work ethic generated, as coach John Fox also predicted, a lifting of all boats.
Teammates on both sides of the ball are better. So are the coaches. Heck, even the team’s ticket sellers and concessionaries have upped their games.
While Manning was turning what began as a season of mystery into one of magnificence, several of his cohorts enjoyed breakout or bounce-back years as the Broncos (13-3) thundered into the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed and winners of 11 straight.
Not since Elway was leading comebacks on the football field instead of from the front office have the Broncos been the odds-on favorites to win the Super Bowl like they are now.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley suggests we call it, “The Manning Effect.”
Manning sets his standards so high that “it just makes the players work harder and want to do better,” said Stokley, who traded in retirement for a reunion with the four-time MVP. “With Peyton, everything has to be so precise, detail-oriented, it just rubs off on everybody else.”
Players see the league’s most decorated quarterback working as though he’s on the bubble to even make the team, and they take heed.
“I think when you have someone of his stature pushing himself to the ultimate level that it makes everyone push themselves to that level, too,” said Denver tight end Jacob Tamme, who also played with Manning in Indianapolis. “The fact he’s had the success he’s had but still works so hard still at this point, I think shows why he’s had the success that he’s had in the first place.”
Young receivers (Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas) and cornerbacks (Chris Harris, Tony Carter) blossomed under Manning’s tutelage. Tailback Knowshon Moreno revived his career. Guard Zane Beadles broke through in his third season and linebacker Wesley Woodyard did so in his fifth. Von Miller, last year’s top defensive rookie, became a bona fide superstar, and several veterans such as Stokley looked young again.
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, the architect of the hybrid offense Manning ran so adroitly in putting up numbers that surpassed those from all four of his MVP seasons, is such a hot head coaching candidate that he’s holding his very own jobs fair this weekend in Denver, meeting with one team after another.
Manning helped them all do their jobs better over the last 10 months.
It all began in the spring on local high school football fields with receivers working hard at not rounding off their routes lest they get an earful from No. 18 and then at team headquarters with cornerbacks picking Manning’s brain to figure out how he was picking them apart.
It grew fast from there, the Broncos getting better and bolder by the week as the 36-year-old quarterback put to rest any lingering doubts about his health or age.
The Broncos’ offense rose from 23rd in the league last season to fourth, and Denver’s defense jumped from 20th to second. They scored 481 points a year after scoring 309. And their defense allowed 289 a year after yielding 390.
“Well, it makes you grow up faster because, for one, he’s not going to let you get away with constant mistakes,” Champ Bailey said. “Maybe one here, one over there, but the same mistakes over and over, he doesn’t want you in there. And that’s the same way on defense. You make too many mistakes, you’re not going to play.”
The ones that did play sure did well.
About two dozen players on the Broncos’ 53-man roster put up their best statistical seasons in 2012. Others had the best performances in years.
“I’d say on both sides of the balls and special teams, there’s guys that have been playing some of their best football,” Decker said. “Offensively, as skill players, having Peyton Manning has helped tremendously, helped the line tremendously, and defensively, with the scheme they’re doing and how they’re doing, it helps everybody.”
Not all of this ripple effect is intangible. Miller and Elvis Dumervil combined for 29 1/2 sacks in large part because of the leads Manning’s offense provided, allowing the pair of pass-rushers to, as the saying goes, pin their ears back and get after the quarterback.
“He puts everybody in the best position to show off your skill-set even if you’re a grunt guy in the middle taking on double teams,” said defensive tackle Mitch Unrein, who posted a career high in tackles and even caught one of Manning’s 37 touchdown passes when he lined up as a fullback.
While Elway, the Broncos’ Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-executive, scaled the mountaintop to land Manning, he also climbed the league’s scrap heap to find the likes of veteran castaways Keith Brooking,Trindon Holliday, Jimmy Leonhard, Jacob Hester and Dan Koppen, all of whom have, like Manning, revived their careers in Denver.
Manning, who’s the best quarterback the NFL has ever known when it comes to decoding defenses, was especially helpful for Denver’s secondary.
“DBs, we’re known as the cocky bunch anyway. But we’re definitely confident going out their having gone against Peyton Manning every day in practice,” safety David Bruton said. “I don’t feel like there’s a quarterback we’ll face that will do anything on the field that we haven’t seen in practice.”
The Broncos spent their bye week having their starting offense square off against their starting defense, and Woodyard said that when Manning scored on a sneak Wednesday, he spiked the ball and talked a little trash.
“Peyton comes to work excited about being here,” Woodyard said. “He’s excited about a shorts practice and I’ve never seen a quarterback like that, amped up every day, getting guys better.”
To be sure, some of the uptick in so many players’ games is a natural progression as they gain experience. Some of it is because of the way the focused Broncos have had their blinders on all season, never looking beyond the day’s work or the next opponent.
Manning, though, sits atop the credits.
“I think there’s a direct correlation because when you have a guy of that caliber, he gives everybody confidence,” Fox said. “Not just the guys on offense, the guys on defense. And that’s where I’m talking about him raising all boats.”
Notes: The Broncos’ season home attendance of 613,062 was the highest in the team’s 53-year history. … Left tackle Ryan Clady didn’t practice all week, but the team isn’t required to give an injury report until Tuesday. Clady has dealt with a bothersome hamstring of late but has never missed a game in his career.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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