Manning Should Set Sights on Graceful Exit

Dan Bisno, Columnist

Deflategate remains a popular news story giv­en the NFL’s recent announcement that they will appeal the reversal of Tom Brady’s suspension by the district court. While this has yet to develop, Brady’s name creates an interesting segue into this week’s topic: the decline of Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. As many of you know, Brady and Manning are, almost inargu­ably, the most successful quarterbacks of their generation. They are the guys that get thrown in the GOAT conversation with Joe Montana, Dan Marino, John Elway, Brett Favre, etc. — perhaps because they’re all hardy and covered with hair, but most likely because they are the “greatest of all time.”

So what’s up with Manning? First of all, the guy is 39 years old. He’s almost old enough to be my dad, yet he posted a Quarterback Rating of over 100 last season. To give some perspective, eclipsing 100 places you in the elite tier of quar­terbacks. This is impressive even before men­tioning that the year before last marked his fifth MVP season, when he threw 5,477 yards to break the record for a single season. Mind you, that’s over three miles. So in many respects, nothing is wrong. Ever since his multiple spinal neck fusion surgeries in 2011, when there was doubt that he would ever return to NFL action, Manning has posted the best numbers of his career. So with two wins on the current season, am I even al­lowed to make the taboo suggestion that some­thing is wrong with Manning?

Please forgive me football gods; I am here to judge the demigod Peyton Manning.

Week One: Manning led the Broncos against quarterback Joe Flacco’s respectable Baltimore Ravens. After much bloodshed, the Broncos won the hard-fought battle. But not at the hands of their quarterback captain. No, Manning threw for less than 200 yards and scored no touch­downs. Instead, Brandon McManus — wait, Brandon who? Brandon McManus, the Broncos’ kicker, scored four field goals to win the game along with a defensive touchdown.

Manning was off. His throws were short and his arm lacked the strength of a superhuman. Maybe it was the adjustment to new coach Gary Kubiak, or maybe it was the five hits that Man­ning took on account of the Baltimore defense, but he threw a “pick 6,” and posted a QBR of 26.4! He read zone coverage as man coverage! But like I said, it’s one week.

So that leaves us at week two. Again the Broncos fought valiantly, this time defeating the Kansas City Chiefs. On the surface, Manning’s numbers aren’t that bad. 256 yards, a trio of touchdowns and one interception. On a second look, his completion percentage for passing was pretty low. In fact, his 59.4 QBR is still significantly below his expected performance. Furthermore, the single interception that he threw was an­other “pick 6!” My favorite Twitter reaction reads, “Here lies Peyton Manning’s arm strength. May it rest in peace,” from DraftKings Pro founder Al Zeidenfeld.

Without McManus kicking so many 50-yard field goals per game, the Broncos would not be 2–0. But more significantly, without the two defensive touchdowns that the Broncos have in only two games, they would surely be 0–2. Mannings’ blemishes are being conveniently disguised by his defense’s astonishing high level of performance. After all, the Broncos boast two of the biggest outside linebacker names in to­day’s football world with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. Maybe Manning needs to spend a little less time filming commercials for Buick and Papa John’s Pizza.

So is this a fluke? Maybe. Probably not, though. Manning has consistently brought up the conversation of his potential retirement at the end of every recent season, even though his contract is set to expire one season from now. If his numbers remain drastically lower than those from earlier in his career, it would not be naive to assume that these could be his last 14 or so games on the NFL stage. At this point, he has ev­ery accolade an NFL quarterback could dream of. The only thing missing from his trophy cabinet is another Super Bowl ring. Can you imagine what it must be like to be Manning, whose younger brother Eli — clearly the worse quarterback of the two — has two rings compared to Peyton’s one? Peyton’s fingers are cold without a second ring, Thanksgiving dinners next to Eli are awk­ward and his opportunity to win another ring is dwindling.

While Manning’s current performance will not cut it in this league, his defense may have what it takes to carry Denver and an ailing Man­ning. Yet we rarely see a defense carry a team to the Super Bowl without a star quarterback. This is not the way Manning wants to go out. Star athletes have the reputation of staying in their respective leagues one year too long, when the reality of their age and diminishing performance hits them like a wall. This year may be quite a roll­ercoaster for Denver fans and Manning’s fantasy football owners. This week the Broncos are set to travel to Detroit to face the 0–2 Lions who recent­ly lost Ndamukong Suh, one of the best defensive tackles in the league, to free agency. Week three will be a telling week for the future of this Den­ver team and its elderly captain, but for now it is safe to say that Peyton Manning’s season opening performances have qualified him as a drool at the Review.