Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has reached the point in his career where a nostalgic gleam, an old fashion glow, a hope for the old days should greet his appearance on the field. Maybe John Elway was able to lead the Broncos at the end of his career to Super Bowls, but outside of the Comeback Kid himself, age is a number that matters in the NFL. However, the early returns on Peyton Manning are breathtaking, rather than nostalgic.
Is it possible for Peyton Manning to be a better quarterback at 37 than any year prior? Accounting for the use of the steroids by Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong, Manning is orchestrating the greatest late chapter renaissance on record through a season and four weeks. Peyton Manning’s game is on an entirely new plane; when a year ago many in the league expected Manning to have a great fall.
The new Peyton Manning, or Evil Peyton Manning as Bill Simmons postulated last week, has several factors going for him to aid in his quest for a second Super Bowl. However, the one that stands above all others is his heightened command of his own game. No matter which way the dice falls, it is hard to argue that a smarter quarterback has played for an extended period of time in the NFL than number 18. This shift has had great impact on the scoreboard.
The New Adventures of Peyton Manning really began in the second half of the San Diego Chargers Monday Night game last season when the Broncos executed a 24-point comeback to win the game and began their current 15-game regular season winning streak. It was at that moment that Manning’s interception ratio shrunk, his passer rating rose and his philosophy on passing shifted. In fact, if you take the winning streak as a season, the four-time MVP would have his best season on record.
Manning began only making the easy throws. No longer weighed down by his limitations as a human, Manning stopped relying on the strength and precision in his arm and chose instead to only make the reasonable, no risk plays. He has not come close to be intercepted through the first four games of the season. His ability to change the plays and find the right receiver is more impressive than him laying the ball in between two receivers down the field and taking a chance.
By embracing his own superior knowledge of the game and allowing his teammates to share in his intellectual pursuits, the Broncos are winning the head game on the field. The two neutral zone infraction penalties by the Philadelphia Eagles were almost comical in the ease at which Denver pulled them off.
Manning’s offensive weapons include the “Four Broncos of the Apocalypse” in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. He trusts in each of them along with his “Rock, Paper Scissors” running game (Knowshon Moreno, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball) to learn the new plays. If they do not, then they are phased out of the game and he moves onto new targets.
Peyton’s teammates have said that they don’t want to be the ones to let Manning down and that he causes them to work harder. The Broncos offense learns new formations and schemes each week. Of course, this is a group of people who saw the opposite approach to the game, Tim Tebow, who did not know what play he was going to call going into the huddle. The Broncos players may be scared of running into that again and want to enjoy the Manning ride.
The stats speak for themselves in Manning. His 75% completion percentage is the best of his career, and that includes the highest dropped ball percentage of any quarterback in the league. His passer rating of 138 would pass Aaron Rodgers as the best ever and he’s on pace to break Tom Brady’s record for touchdowns in a season by 14.
The season is long, and it will not be a simple journey down the yellow brick road into perfection, but Manning has the ability to be better than ever before. This team wants nothing short of that perfection for Peyton Manning, particularly after losing the game against the Baltimore Ravens last January. As for Manning, his neck surgeries finally are allowing him to use his head first and give opposing teams a migraine.