Peyton Manning, one of the most iconic quarterbacks in NFL history, is ready to play again for the Denver Broncos. His numbers are staggering. He has thrown for 69,691 career yards and 530 touchdowns – both NFL records. During his 17-year career, Manning has won the NFL MVP award five times which, again, is more than anyone else in league history. When he left the Indianapolis Colts and became available for other teams in 2012, there was a highly publicized scramble to obtain him by numerous teams around the league, but it was the Broncos who eventually won out. He rewarded them with three strong seasons, during which the Broncos were among the most successful teams in the league, earning a playoff bye in each of those seasons.
In 2013, behind Manning, the Broncos had a record-setting offense, becoming the first team to score over 600 points in a single season. Manning in particular had an amazing season, setting records both for most passing yards and touchdowns thrown by a quarterback in a single season, en route to another MVP season. Denver looked incredible throughout the regular season and easily won the AFC West, then plowed through their opponents in the AFC playoffs, before losing to the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. It was the third time that Manning led a team to the Super Bowl. He had won Super Bowl XLI and earned Super Bowl MVP honors in the process with the Colts.
Yet, despite all of these accolades, the Broncos seem to be showing hesitation to bring Manning back in 2015. There are reasons, although not everyone agrees with these. He will turn 39 next month, and towards the end of last season, he looked visibly bothered and limited, although neither he nor the team admitted to any significant injury. In particular, he looked bad in a playoff game last month against his old team, the Colts, during which the Broncos got booted out of the playoffs. Manning himself was booed by the home crowd towards the end of the game. Also, some people have suggested that while he is undeniably the most accomplished regular season quarterback in history, his career playoff performance has been much more limited, and that he may have limitations that could hinder Denver’s hopes for a Super Bowl title.
Some have suggested that all of this adds up to Manning being done. Still, a look at his play last season shows another story. While Denver began to emphasize their running game significantly more after being pounded by the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, Manning still managed to throw for 4,727 yards and 39 touchdowns. That means that last season ranks among the finest statistically of his distinguished career, despite the impression that many had towards the end that he may be washed up. There was some question as to whether he would be ready to play again for the Broncos, and the storied quarterback himself took some time after Denver’s early playoff exit to see how he felt about returning.
It should not be forgotten, however, that the Broncos won the AFC West for a fourth straight season, doing so with a 12-4 record, which was the third straight season that Denver managed that record or better with Manning at quarterback. Since the Broncos last won the Super Bowl back in the 1998 season, they have only managed to reach such a solid regular season record once, in 2005, and they lost in the AFC title game that year. Manning has allowed them to be an elite team in each of the last three regular seasons, and brought the team to their first Super Bowl in a decade and a half. It would appear that they are closer to getting back to another big game with Manning than without. Looking at it that way, it would be hard to argue that Manning is not an asset for the Broncos. Indeed, it is still likely that their best shot at a Super Bowl title in the near future would be with him at the helm, and Manning made it clear that he is ready to play again for the Broncos. The only question remaining is whether the Broncos want him to play for them.
By Charles Bordeau
Photo by Craig Hawkins – Flickr