By Rich Kurtzman
As of this year, Peyton Manning was the only player in history to have been named an MVP four different times. Now that he’s been bestowed a mind-blowing fifth recognition of the NFL’s most esteemed individual title, it’s perfectly fitting that he breaks another record this year— and it’s his own.
Manning has been nothing short of marvelous all year in the Mile High City. In fact, those “Super Bowl or bust” aspirations have turned into reality, due greatly to the awe-inspiring offense led by Manning. Remove the inspiring team rebirth and injury-recovery story lines and you still have one of the most impressive seasons by a quarterback in recent history, if not ever. Pages may literally have to be added to the record books after what he accomplished in 2013.
The NFL records are numerous; the reality-bending statistics argue for themselves that Manning is the greatest offense in the 94-year history of the professional football league.
- Manning scored 606 total points, making the Broncos the first and only members of the exclusive 600-point club.
- His 289 passing first downs was also most ever, along with many individual records for Manning.
- Manning threw for 55 touchdowns during the regular season, besting Tom Brady’s 50 with ease; and also passed for an NFL record 5,477 yards, one more than Drew Brees’ 5,476 in 2011. In doing so, he was also the first quarterback to ever throw for 50-plus touchdowns with over 5,000 yards in a single season–spectacular.
But it’s not just the jaw-dropping numbers that won Manning the NFL’s MVP for an unprecedented fifth time; it’s the way he’s revolutionized the at-times perplexing position of quarterback.
The most important position in American sports takes a unique blend of physical ability and incredible intelligence; Manning’s continued to prove he’s one of the smartest players in the league. His studying is second to none, watching clip after clip of game film in order to decipher what the defense he’s playing wants to do depending on what they show him in the pre-snap read. In fact, it may be there – the pre-snap read – in which Manning excels beyond any other quarterback, because he almost always knows what they want to do.
“He might be one of the best I’ve ever been around that can process, ‘Ok, I’ve got these tools to use, and in 10 seconds I’ve got to make a decision, and execute in less than four’,” Broncos quarterback coach Greg Knapp explained. “That trait he has is so special because it’s not like he’s up there audibling all the time.”
Sometimes, though, he does call one of his audibles – no, “Omaha” isn’t one – putting his offense in the play he believes will best work in their favor.
If he sees five or more defensive backs, he’ll check from a pass to a run. Too many crowding the box? Check to the fade route down the sideline against one-on-one coverage.
Manning’s so smart, he doesn’t force passes, instead he decides to attack where it’s most plausible he’ll have the advantage. Dropping passes in with precision over receivers’ shoulders has become an art form for Manning the maestro; other times he magnificently places the pigskin where only his men have a chance at a catch.
The man that’s been gameplanning to stop him, Seattle Seahawks Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn, is impressed with Manning’s decision-making ability. “He has just great mental quickness and knows where to go with his eyes,” Quinn said. “This is going to sound obvious, but he throws to the guy that’s open. It’s not quite that easy, but how does he keep getting it to the right spot, to the right guy?”
It’s likely due to the extra hours Manning pours into the film study, seeing and then exploiting weaknesses in games.
Don’t let those “wounded ducks” confuse you, Manning’s accuracy is awesome, and how he does it at 37-years old is a mystery.
He passes profoundly well, is so smart he knows how to beat nearly every defense, but what defines Manning doesn’t stop there. No. 18 is a leader, jumping all over his teammates when they make mistakes, begging, pleading for perfection. That amazing attention to detail—coupled with his work ethic—has allowed for all the success this Denver offense has seen in 2013.
It’s why Julius Thomas, who had one catch in the NFL before this season and grew up a basketball player, was able to become a true threat, catching 65 passes for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns in the regular season. Against the San Diego Chargers in the Divisional round, Thomas was counted on to catch two crucial third down conversions, did his job, which allowed the Broncos to run the clock out and move onto the AFC Championship Game.
Manning has the ability to make everyone feel important, a way of spreading the ball out to as many players as possible; it’s why the Broncos became the first team in NFL history to have five or more players score 10-plus touchdowns.
Following that Divisional round victory, Thomas said this of Manning’s leadership, “He just keeps fighting. He doesn’t get negative, he never gives up and he continues to fight and I think that’s our motto as a team all year. We’ve gone through a lot, we’ve had a lot of key players go down but we just continue to battle.”
Now, thanks in large part to Manning pushing them through all the adversity, Denver is one win away from their third Super Bowl victory. When John Elway landed Manning in March of 2012, it started a snowball effect of great players knocking on the Dove Valley doors and wanting to sign up towards a championship run. In fact, when the Broncos signed him, owner Pat Bowlen explained, “Our goal has always been to win Super Bowls, and Peyton gives us a chance to win another world championship.”
In the 2013 offseason alone, Elway inked seven starters to deals – Wes Welker, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Shaun Phillips, Duke Ihenacho, Kevin Vickerson, Louis Vasquez and injured Dan Koppen – adding to the tremendous talent in Denver.
Now just one more magical game by Manning will mean a winning record in the Super Bowl and in the playoffs for the legend in the making, an ending that would cap-off the storybook season, no doubt.
With his play this season – and really, his entire career – Manning has elevated the standard for quarterbacking in the NFL. The question is: Will anyone be able to reach Peyton’s peak?
For more news and updates about the NFL Playoffs, visit NFL Playoffs Central.
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. Rich is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. His work can be found on Examiner.com.