If the Denver Broncos lose in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday, it could very well be Peyton Manning’s last game.
It would almost certainly be his last game in Denver, given that both he and Brock Osweiler are free agents. Neither would probably accept a backup position next year, and Denver would be foolish to hang on to another year of Manning while losing out on a potential decade-plus of Osweiler.
Peyton’s Legacy in Denver
Even though it seems like it was just yesterday that us Broncos fans stopped Tebowing and embraced our inner Manning, this is Papa John’s fourth year in blue and orange. Looking back, he’s done quite a bit.
Year 1: I’m still not ready to talk about this.
Year 2: For Bronco fans, there are few things better than beating the San Diego Chargers and Phillip Rivers, exponentially more so in the playoffs, but winning our first Brady-Manning playoff game and going to the Super Bowl afterwards was probably better. As fun as those were, what happened next was equally disheartening as they ended up on the wrong side of the only 43-8 game in NFL history.
@JayGlazer reports #Broncos coach John Fox might be available if team loses. Pretty good chance.
— Jason Cole (@JasonColeBR) January 11, 2015
Always a good sign when a prominent and trusted journalist with a good relationship with your team’s head coach reports that he’ll leave “if” they lose their playoff game later that day. That was a hostage situation that robbed us of another Brady-Manning AFC Championship.
Year 4: If Bronco fans had to list the 5 teams they hate the most, the consensus would form around Pittsburgh, New England, Kansas City, Oaklandlangeles, and San Diegolangeles. In four years, Manning secured playoff wins over three of them, with the potential to clinch the Brady-Manning playoff rivalry in favor of the Broncos this weekend.
Regardless of what happens on Sunday, it’s been a good run.
Bronco fans have a unique perspective on the Manning-Brady rivalry, because as a Colt, Peyton routinely eviscerated the Broncos to the point where they traded for Champ Bailey after Manning threw for over 800 yards and 9 TD’s in back to back playoff games against Denver. We’re not fans of Brady, but Peyton wasn’t exactly our favorite guy either.
Even in the face of recent HGH allegations, Peyton’s legacy is mostly secured in Denver. The debate about PED’s has certainly waned from its peak in the previous decade, as many people don’t really know what to make of doping in sports anymore due to its complexity, and because it seems to be so widespread.
Plus, the NFL has little interest in finding out whether Peyton Manning is taking PED’s, because if he is, so is a gigantic chunk of the league. This is a story that will most likely never be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Fans care about wins, and Peyton provided plenty of those for Bronco fans to go along with a laughable amount of NFL and franchise records. With two more wins, he would become a Denver legend. Without them, this was merely a fun, yet mildly disappointing episode in an otherwise long term relationship with our city’s favorite sports team.
Peyton’s legacy vs Brady
Far too many words have been committed to a debate that no one can really ever win, so I won’t waste any more space here, but given that I live in Boston and have to deal with the noise, I just want to remind my compatriots that a handful of field goals and a couple other plays not involving Peyton Manning or Tom Brady have swung this rivalry in favor of Brady in the Win-Loss column. Assigning the efforts of 46 men (not to mention the coaching staff) to 1 man is an inefficient way to compare two players. Such is the nature of a game that is decided by inches.
Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots
Believe it or not, but there are people other than Tom Brady and Peyton Manning playing in this game.
Brady vs. Manning 17? Not even a contest. But Brady vs. Ware/Miller/Talib/Harris/Ward? Now THAT’S a contest.
— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) January 18, 2016
While everyone has been trying to push their way to the front of the line to pour more dirt on Peyton Manning’s career, few have talked about the real reason why the Broncos are hosting the AFC Championship Game: the best defense in the NFL.
@Cianaf Almost every year the best O is stronger than best D. Not this year. Den D was stronger than any offense, NO D worse than any off.
— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) January 21, 2016
Debating Manning has commanded so much of the conversation that it’s given many the impression that the offense is still the one we’ve become familiar with over the last decade-plus. It’s not. They’re not even running the same offense they were running when I wrote my column on the QB controversy a month ago.
Since then, Osweiler lead multiple comebacks in the biggest game of the season, jolting the Broncos out of their doldrums by running the Manning/Tom Moore offense to near-perfection. The entire offense fell apart the following week, turning the ball over 5 times before Manning came in relief of Osweiler. Peyton lead comebacks against the Chargers in week 17 and the Steelers in the Divisional Round while hopping in between Kubiak’s West Coast scheme, and Moore’s spread attack.
Denver will win this game if they can run the ball effectively, contain Gronk to simply a good game instead of an extraordinary one, and consistently pressure Brady and knock balls down at the line.
New England will win this game if they can take away deep passes and throws outside the numbers from Manning. That will free them up to put extra players close to the line to stop the Broncos best threat: their rushing attack. Offensively, so long as the Pats protect the ball they should be fine. Josh McDaniels’ offense is great, and even though the Denver defense is more than up to the task, it’s hard to see how Brady won’t get his points.
This game will most likely come down to the Denver offense and the New England defense. One thing to keep an eye on is the Patriots Achilles heel: their nearly non-existent running game. They trust their run game so little that they abandoned it while running out the clock with a one score lead last week, and Brady nearly threw one of the costliest interceptions in recent playoff history.
Denver’s Achilles heel this season has been Peyton Manning.
His arm strength has been a major issue since his neck surgery, but it was his decision-making earlier this season is what made him look like the worst quarterback in the league. If the Peyton Manning from fall 2015 shows up, Sports Illustrated’s prediction will prove to be prescient.
Patriots 42, Broncos 17; Panthers 34, Cardinals 23. https://t.co/zlVTAIGlWN
— SI NFL (@si_nfl) January 21, 2016
If the Peyton of the last two games shows up, then this has all the makings of a classic.
Cover Photo Credit: Jeffrey Beall/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)