Peyton Manning threw another touchdown Sunday. And another. And another. Then another.
This is a staple now, as reliable as seasonal changes or movements of the bowel.
When the Denver Broncos play, the world watches their quarterback. Birds interrupt their flight. Captains dock their ships. All sex stops. Electrical power reaches capacity as TVs and laptops all power up to see just what the hell Manning is going to do this week.
Will it be three touchdowns, or four, or seven? Three hundreds yards passing or 400 or maybe one day five or six? It's fun to watch, and no one wants to miss a thing.
It's chilling to see a quarterback playing as efficiently and beautifully as he is now.
But we all know the next part of this, right? We know what's coming—we know what will be demanded of him. We know.
As good as Manning is playing (his line in Sunday's 52-20 win over the Eagles: 28-of-34, 327 yards, four touchdowns), he didn't go to Denver to be 4-0 or 9-0 or even 16-0. He didn't go to set records. He didn't go to win a playoff game or two.
He went to win you-know-what.
So as we watch Manning and are awed by him, in the recesses and soon to be forefront of everyone's mind—including possibly that big brain of his—is this sentence: He must win the Super Bowl.
It's totally unfair, but coldly realistic. To justify all of this awe, Manning needs to win a championship. If he doesn't, all of this will have been pretty to see, but calorically empty.
Again, unfair, but this is the sports world we live in. Across football, Peyton Manning is someone both admired and feared—during the regular season.
There is always a "yeah, but..." with Manning. He is great. Yeah...but he has just one Super Bowl win. Manning is a record-breaking machine. Yeah...but look at his playoff record.
Look at it, indeed. Manning is 9-11 in the postseason with eight—eight—one-and-done playoff trips. For all of the breathlessness he creates with his play, there have been just as many gasps of horror. Not all of the playoff losses have been Manning's fault, but if he gets the credit for his greatness, he has to take the heat for the losses.
Last year, it all seemed set for Manning in the postseason against Baltimore. The Ravens were on their Sports Authority field, and the Broncos were 9.5-point favorites. Manning responded with a pick-six, a fumble and the game-losing interception in overtime.
Yet again, critics aimed their photon torpedoes directly at Manning. It didn't matter that a variety of things contributed to the loss—Manning was the big target.
This is part of the territory for stars in this league, especially a star like Manning, whose power isn't limited to football. He's the biggest star the sport has created since Jim Brown.
No, it's not fair, but this is our world, and Peyton Manning rules it right now. Tom Brady has beaten Manning repeatedly, but Manning is still the bigger overall force. Andrew Luck is terrific, but not on Manning's level.
He is again obliterating defenses. He is again unstoppable. He is again playing the position as beautifully as it's ever been played.
But then comes the reminder of what he needs to do once the regular season ends and the postseason begins. Manning hasn't won a playoff game since Jan. 24, 2010 against the Jets. That's how bad it's been.
And that's what he's got to change. This season.
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