By Rich Kurtzman
When Peyton Manning was signed to the Broncos in March, everyone expected a successful season; just not this stellar.
Manning proved once again that he’s the master of NFL offense, finishing in the top-six at his position in completions, percentage, yards, touchdowns and rating. He set Broncos’ single-season franchise records for completions (400), passing yards (4,659) and touchdowns thrown (37), while leading the Broncos to 11 straight wins and a 13-3 record at the end of the regular season. Manning’s leadership is key – he earned the respect of teammates with his wonderful work eithic then taught them his offense over the course of the year – and it’s a big reason why he should be named NFL MVP over Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings.
With all that statistical success, he’s really helped boost the receiving corps’ production to a Mile High level.
According to the Denver Post, only five other times in Broncos’ history have four different players have at least 500 yards receiving. And what sets this year apart from all the others is that Denver is a true contender for a championship, the other five seasons (1962, 1981, 1988, 2002 and 2008) the team missed the playoffs all together.
Demaryius Thomas, who went through a bumpy road his first two seasons in the Mile High City, has probably benefited the most from Manning calling the plays and tossing him the rock. Thomas’ 1,434 yards through the air are nearly double what he enjoyed his first two years combined (834), and his 15.3 yards per catch average is nothing to laugh at either. Manning’s precise passing often drops the ball right in over the speeding receivers’ shoulder, allowing him to stay in stride and break off big gains. His 10 touchdowns are a career-high as well, including the spectacular catch that his quarterback seemed to throw too high, until Thomas flew through the air and brought it down with one hand against the Chiefs in Week 17. There’s no doubt DT has become a No. 1 NFL receiver this season; his football IQ has finally caught up with his amazing athletic abilities thanks to Manning’s tutelage.
The Broncos No. 2 receiver is no slouch, as Eric Decker went over 1,000 yards as well this season, making it only the third time two different receivers passed the 1,000 yard mark (2000 Ed McCaffery and Rod Smith, 2008 Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal). Just like his
partner Thomas, Decker enjoyed career-highs in receptions (85), yards (1,064) and touchdowns (13) and his 21 scores over the last two seasons were a new franchise record as well. Decker and Manning formed a bond early in the season and it’s lasted all year long. He’s got to show up in the postseason as well – he had only one catch in the playoffs last year.
The other two Broncos to go over 500 yards receiving were tight end Jacob Tamme (555) and slot receiver Brandon Stokley (544), two former Manning teammates with Indianapolis. Each Tamme and Stokley have been safety valves for Manning when his big-play men aren’t open, and they’ve both been go-to guys on third downs. And the veteran quarterback admitted earlier in the season that both Tamme and Stokley’s experience helped in translating the plays from the old Colts verbiage into the Broncos terminology, which only expedited the learning and improvement of the offense as a whole.
Now the Broncos are set to face the Baltimore Ravens this Saturday – kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. MT in Denver’s Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium – and they’ll bring that top-five passing attack to try and advance to the AFC Championship game with a win.
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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.