This is going to be quick, though not as quick as the mere 2.4 seconds needed by Peyton Manning to get off a pass. I’m ready to adopt the theory of Jim Sorgi — who backed up Manning for years in Indianapolis and, thus, basically never played — that the unthinkable is possible.
“I think Peyton could win a game without throwing a pass if he had to,” Sorgi said.
Maybe that’s next. For now, he’s busy knocking down everything else in his way, throwing three more touchdown passes in Denver’s 37-21 rout of the Oakland Raiders. That gives Manning an absurd 12 scoring tosses before October, most ever by an NFL quarterback after three games, and it has us checking off all the obstacles that should be bothering him but astonishingly do not as he performs at a near-unprecedented level.
Four neck surgeries?
The loss of his protector, All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady, with a season-ending foot injury?
The six-game suspension of All-Pro linebacker Von Miller? The shocking allegations that Miller swapped out a dirty drug test for a clean one with the help of an NFL-sanctioned urine collector, as reported by ESPN?
The loss of pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore because of a clerical error involving a late fax? Disarray in the Broncos’ front office, including the DUI arrests of two ranking football officials?
New starters on the offensive line? A rookie running back? No Champ Bailey at corner?
Thirty-seven years on his body?
A ball that doesn’t spiral tightly or move briskly?
“You see flashes of good things,” is all Manning said per the Associated Press, giving us little, which is how he likes it.
Nothing bugs Manning, the most cerebral of all quarterbacks. He is the very definition of a Most Valuable Player, heavy-lifting an entire franchise onto his surgically repaired frame and almost single-handedly leading the Broncos to a 3-0 record, a league-leading 127 points and 1,460 yards. He hasn’t thrown an interception — his brother, Eli, has thrown eight picks with the hopeless, protection-less, 0-3 New York Giants — and he completed 15 consecutive passes at one point Monday night. His improvisational mastery under center and deft play fakes after the snap continue to lay a foundation for a quarterbacking clinic unlike any other.
“You see what he can do. I don’t even know too many people who can do that in Madden,” said Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman, per the AP meaning the video game. “It’s pretty cool to have a quarterback like that.”
Cool is understating it. “We get to play with one of the greatest quarterbacks and football players to ever play the game,” said tight end Julius Thomas, Manning’s latest weapon creation. “He’s great. There’s no other way to cut it up or slice it.”
The opposition was just as mesmerized. “Any inch of mistake that he sees, he’s going to put that ball there and find that hole,” Raiders cornerback Mike Jenkins said.
As is his way, Manning downplayed it all. “We’re executing and not making mistakes — we can go the distance,” he told ESPN after completing 32 of 37 passes for 374 yards. “We can go 80 yards, take advantage of a short field, but you still see some mistakes. We can’t have it. I still think there is plenty we can improve on. I really do.”
His cautious words blunted the magnitude of it all. Manning is thriving in his rebirth, 19 months after the Colts decided he was damaged goods and couldn’t move forward with him. They drafted Andrew Luck, a maneuver that has worked out well and should serve them another decade, at least. Manning joined hands with Hall of Famer John Elway in Denver, and he has been a godsend to a team that was trying to get by on Tim Tebow’s ad-libbing when it needed a legitimate professional quarterback. They have one of the greatest ever in Manning, who is trying to accentuate a legacy that includes only one Super Bowl championship, or one fewer than Eli.
And to think it wasn’t long ago when Manning, after a series of delicate surgeries that threatened his career, was pondering early retirement. His father worried. His brother worried. Most athletes would have retired after four neck surgeries.
Not Manning. He has another ring to size up, trying to match Eli’s two in his brother’s New Jersey backyard in February. He is playing an elaborate game of chess, and no one is capable of stopping him, even amid all the Broncos’ problems. This much is certain: No one is too concerned about his health, even with Clady gone for the year. And no one is thinking about the four neck surgeries, past tense as they are. “Certainly there was a time there we were concerned if he would play at all,” his father, Archie, told ESPN.com. “And I think the big thing, we’re all elated and happy for Peyton because he wanted to play some more and the doctors cleared him. But I guess what I didn’t know about is having to leave Indianapolis and kind of that comfort and all those years and starting over again. To me, that was kind of the hard part, and also dealing, as he’s stated, he’s not as strong. His arm’s not as strong (after all the surgeries, and getting older. So we didn’t really know what to expect.”
No one expected Peyton 2.0 to be — dare we suggest it? — even better this time. And we only can wonder what’s down the road, in February, if all the obstacles are shooed away.