About the only negatives about Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning people have been able to come up with in his career are his performances in the playoffs and his struggles in cold-weather games. The criticisms are mostly fair, but they are also the kind that eat at Manning and motivate him to keep getting better—a scary thought.
In below-freezing temperatures in Denver on Sunday, Manning tossed four touchdowns in a 51-28 rout of the Tennessee Titans. He was 39-of-59 for 397 yards passing against a good, physical secondary.
Manning shut up the critics in a big way.
Arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game has probably been waiting to redeem himself since his performance in cold-weather games became a big story after last year’s playoff loss against the Baltimore Ravens. The story was reignited two weeks ago in a cold-weather loss to the New England Patriots—a familiar Manning nemesis.
People didn’t remember that Manning led the Broncos to 35 points on 28-of-43 passing or his three touchdown passes against the Ravens; they remember his interception in overtime. Sure, Manning had just 150 yards passing on 19-of-36 passing against the Patriots, but the critics ignored the fact that the Broncos had a 24-0 lead at halftime and the defense imploded in the second half.
Does Manning have issues in cold weather, or does Denver’s defense just have problems? Its defense should be the concern because Manning proved again and again on Sunday that he’s far from a problem. The Broncos may have a few issues they need to work out before the playoffs, but Manning looked playoff-ready on Sunday.
With 39 first downs against Tennessee, the Broncos were just one shy of the NFL record of 40 that recently set by the New Orleans Saints, according to Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders. Of those first downs, 25 came by way of a Manning pass cutting through the frigid Denver air like a hot knife through butter.
Manning’s passes had zip and were accurate. He was not sacked and did not throw an interception. His passes passed go and collected $200. There was nothing about Manning’s performance to nitpick because he left no doubt that the cold weather wasn’t an issue for him.
After the game he told Denver radio station 850 KOA of the cold-weather woes, via The Denver Post, "Whoever wrote that narrative can shove it where the sun don't shine."
With three games to play before the playoffs, the Broncos may have some questions to answer, but Manning doesn’t. The team knows it has issues on defense to worry about, but Manning can carry it to victory every single week and it might not matter.
And his teammates have complete faith in him regardless of the weather. Tight end Julius Thomas told the The Denver Post, "Whatever it takes, he's going to execute and put the ball where it needs to be."
On Sunday, the Broncos set an NFL record by becoming the first team to score and allow 17 points or more in their first 13 games, according to Kacsmar. You might say Manning has carried the team through a lot worse than freezing temperatures.
Manning has led the Broncos to an 11-2 record, and he’s had to overcome a lot. Of the hurdles he has had to clear are multiple injuries to star cornerback Champ Bailey, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, defensive end Derek Wolfe and starting All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady. He was also without pass-rusher Von Miller, who served a six-game suspension.
Manning isn’t perfect, but he’s about as close as anyone in the league is going to get at the quarterback position in a long time.
The only question left for Manning is if he can win another Super Bowl. Can he perform in the playoffs? Will he have to go up against the Patriots and head coach Bill Belichick?
If he does, Manning took the next step in assuring it will be in Denver in front of the home crowd.
Cold weather be damned.