Nearly two years ago to the day, Peyton Manning was laying in a hospital bed wearing the always necessary, but never fashionable Miami J cervical collar.
The arm that threw a record-tying seven touchdowns in the Broncos’ week one 49-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens reached for the television remote rather than a football right after his fourth neck surgery – a single-level cervical fusion- in September 2011. That’s when the talking heads came out and did a taunting legless dance around him.
“Manning won’t have the same kind of arm strength to be the same,” said one.
“His career is over,” said another armchair analyst.
“His best days are behind him.”
At 37-years-old, Manning became the first player to throw for seven touchdowns in one game since Minnesota quarterback Joe Kapp did it against the Colts in 1969. And he did it without throwing an interception. How’s that for aging like a fine wine? To put seven touchdowns in perspective, that’ more than half the total touchdowns (13) that Mark Sanchez threw last season. That’s one less touchdown than the Chiefs had in all of 2012.
“It’s incredible,” head coach John Fox said after the first win of the season. “I mean I thought he was incredible a year ago. I’ve said it a million times – to sit out a year, come to a new city, all new teammates, a very unusual type of injury.”
Little did Manning know while he was laying in that hospital bed, his road to recovery would lead him to Denver. With a little (Andrew) Luck and John Elway, the four-time MVP and 12-time Pro Bowler went from Colt to Bronco. He matured in mascot and perhaps in performance as well as he trotted down the Wild West dirt road.
After sitting out a year, his 4,695 passing yards last season was the second-highest season passing total of his career. However, it meant nothing to Manning last January when the Broncos lost to the Ravens in double-overtime in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Fast-forward eight months to Manning and the Super Bowl winning quarterback Joe Flacco pinned up on the south side of Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Only one quarterback deserved to be up there. That’s why midway through the game, last year’s Super Bowl winner was down on the ground, literally and figuratively speaking.
It didn’t matter that the Ravens held onto the ball for nearly eight minutes longer than the Broncos. When it comes to a Manning-led offense, time is irrelevant because production is the only thing that matters.
“Well, we got into a good rhythm,” Manning said. “It took us a while. I don’t make excuses but I do think that lightening delay did slow us down.”
“Slow” by Manning’s standards is not scoring within the the first three offensive series of the game. It wasn’t until Chris Harris dove in front of former teammate Brandon Stokley and picked off Flacco to ignite the kerosene doused fuse that was sitting under the Broncos since January. One play later, Manning found Julius Thomas down the middle for a 24-yard touchdown. In fact, of Manning’s seven touchdowns, only one went for more than 28 yards. The one to Demaryius Thomas that went for 78 yards was mostly off of Thomas’ run after the catch. That goes to show that Manning doesn’t have to have the strongest arm in the game to still be effective.
“It’s fun to play quarterback when you have a lot of guys working hard and making a lot of plays for you,” Manning said of his deep receiving threat.
His 462 total passing yards on the night also tied for the third-highest single game total in Broncos history. Elway looked on from his box with a knowing smile on his face.
Football is played with the legs, shoulders, and arms. Elway knows that most of it is played from the neck up, however.