Peyton Manning set the NFL's single-season passing touchdown record nine years ago while with the Indianapolis Colts. New England Patriots gunslinger Tom Brady broke it three years later, but Manning suddenly finds himself in position to regain a record that few thought could ever be challenged again.
Manning is currently on pace for the greatest passing season in NFL history as he has led the Denver Broncos to a dominant 4-0 start. Through four games, Manning has passed for 1,470 yards, 16 touchdowns and no interceptions with a 75 percent completion rate.
That puts Manning on pace to throw for 5,880 yards and 64 touchdowns, which would both be single-season NFL records. While the yardage total may not be sustainable due to the fact that Denver figures to be playing from ahead quite often as the season progresses, Manning could very well shatter the touchdown mark.
His 16 touchdown passes are an NFL record through the season's first month, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
Brady broke Manning's original record of 49 touchdowns by throwing for 50 in 2007. The Pats finished a perfect 16-0 that season, and Brady formed a lethal combination with wide receiver Randy Moss. Brady has had some great weapons over the years, but nothing can compare to what Manning has at his disposal right now.
In fact, it can be argued that Manning has the greatest arsenal in NFL history. There is no doubt that Manning makes his receivers great to a certain degree, but Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and ex-Patriot Wes Welker keep opposing defenses on their toes at all times.
Manning probably figured that he would never have a better supporting cast than what he had with the Colts in 2004 as Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne and Brandon Stokley all broke 1,000 receiving yards, while tight ends Marcus Pollard and Dallas Clark combined for over 700. As great as that group was, it pales in comparison to Manning's current running mates.
Most 37-year-old players are either already retired or on the verge of doing so, but Manning looks like he can continue to play at this level for as long as he chooses.
A big part of that relates to his protection. Despite the fact that Pro-Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady was lost for the season, according to Lindsay H. Jones of USA TODAY, Manning has been pressured less than any quarterback in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
That ensures that Manning remains healthy, and it also gives him all the confidence in the world to stand in the pocket for as long as he needs to before hitting his target.
Manning now has six straight games with a QBR of 80 or better, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which makes him the first quarterback to do that over the past eight years.
The list of accolades that Manning has already achieved and could potentially achieve this season is immense. While it can be said that anything other than a second career Super Bowl ring is inconsequential from Manning's perspective, that single-season touchdown record has to be on his mind.
Manning has never come across as a guy who cares about individual accomplishments, but the fact that he had the record only for it to get broken is significant. After missing the entire 2011 season with a neck injury, it seemed as though Manning might never find himself in this position again. Now he has a golden opportunity to bring his comeback full circle.
Hoisting the Lombardi Trophy certainly remains Manning's top priority, but breaking such a prestigious record along the way would be icing on the cake.
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