In his last four drives, Manning directed the Broncos to four touchdowns – totaling 305 yards – without needing a third-down play.
The performance had pundits questioning how anyone doubted whether Manning could return to – or perhaps even exceed – his old form. “Manning and the Broncos defy logic,” wrote Adam Schein on NFL.com. Woody Paige of The Denver Post summed it up this way: “Manning operates like a surgeon. He commands like a general.”
Others in Denver suggest the remaining 12 regular season games are little more than tune-ups for the post-season playoffs and an eventual run to the Super Bowl.
If there has been a blemish on Manning’s 14-year career in Indianapolis and his brief tenure in Denver, it is his post-season play. There was a Super Bowl championship in 2006 and a runner-up banner in 2009, but his overall playoff record is only 9-11 with eight one-and-done performances.
When a player has reached the highest level of NFL stardom, the only thing that counts is championship rings. That’s how the great ones are remembered – winning Super Bowls.
Manning led Denver into the playoffs last year and then lost in a most improbable, unimaginable way. The Broncos appeared to have it salted away, but the Ravens scored late on a desperation play. The Broncos ended up losing 38-35 in double overtime. One wonders how Manning will suppress memories of that demoralizing loss or confront his own sub-par record as the playoff season approaches.
Football is a team game, but Manning will forever be the target. Praise is heaped on him when he wins, the criticism is unmerciful when he loses. The pressure this time around will be immense, perhaps more so than any time since he entered the league. His early-season statistics are off the charts, but might they again create unreal expectations?